Child arrangements – the new regime
Divorced or separated parents should now find it quicker and easier to make arrangements for their children under the regime of the new single family court, which came into being from July 2014.
Lauren Clarke, family law expert at Malcolm C Foy & Co Solicitors based in both Doncaster and Rotherham, explains the new system for anyone who may be likely to be involved in disagreement about a child’s welfare.
The family court system exists to assist families, including wider family members such as grandparents and resolve disputes about the care and upbringing of children. Under the new changes, there is now greater emphasis on families to try and resolve the dispute themselves in the event of a divorce or separation.
Under a ‘child arrangement order’ (previously called a contact or residence order) the court will decide the arrangements for children, including where they will live and how much time is spent with each parent.
If you already have a residence or contact order in place from before April 2014, it will now be treated as a child arrangement order.
The new child arrangement programme (CAP)
The new system of resolving disputes is called the child arrangement programme. It is designed to assist families to reach safe agreements focused on the best interests of their children. Where possible, the aim is to help parents reach an agreement out of court, as it is now recognised that this generally improves long-term cooperation between estranged family members and is better for the children concerned. Often it is quicker and cheaper than going to court.
The new system promotes both parents spending time with their children and the court can also grant a parental responsibility order at the same time, where appropriate.
Mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM)
Another change is that before taking your dispute to the family court, you must attend a mediation information and assessment meeting. It is up to you to contact a family mediator to arrange a meeting and you must invite everyone who has parental responsibility for the child to attend. Our experienced solicitors will be at hand to give you legal advice throughout the mediation. There may also be legal aid available to deal with the mediation process.
If the dispute is not resolved through mediation, and you later apply to court, you will be asked for evidence that a mediation meeting has taken place.
Changes at court applications
Another objective of the new single family court system is to ensure that a suitable level of judge is appointed to hear your case, in the most convenient location. If there are multiple hearings, it is hoped that the same judge will hear every stage of your case.
Before the first court hearing, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will carry out enquiries to ensure the safety of the children. This may include gathering information from the children’s schools or local authority, and carrying out criminal record checks on any of the adults involved.
At the first court hearing the CAFCASS officer will try to speak separately to the people on each side of the dispute before the hearing. Then the judge and the CAFCASS officer will together try and help you resolve some or all of the issues between you. If you still cannot agree, the court will set a timetable for further court hearings to resolve the outstanding issues.
This new legislation brings a shift of emphasis in family disputes, encouraging families to resolve their dispute themselves, with the court making a final decision only when other avenues have failed. The whole process for securing arrangements for children has been speeded up, so it is important to take legal advice at an early stage and get an experienced legal representative at your side.
If you are concerned about making arrangements for your children or have any other family law problems, please contact Lauren Clarke, a family solicitor at Malcolm C Foy & Co Solicitor, for a confidential discussion.
Malcolm C Foy & Co Solicitors are based at 51 Hallgate, Doncaster, DN1 3PB 01302 340005 and 2 Upper Millgate, Rotherham, S60 1PF 01709 836866.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances. 11.03.15