As we head towards the end of 2015 now is an appropriate time to reflect on developments in the ever changing landscape of family law over the last 12 months. The Children and Families Act 2014 has now been in force for some 20 months and practitioners and their clients have had a chance to see the various changes introduced by this legislation bed in.
For my part, I believe that the more neutral terminology of the child arrangement orders which replaced residence and contact orders has been a change for the better with both parents perceiving these orders to be more evenly balanced, than their predecessors
More streamlined court procedures and a more limited number of hearings has also, I think, served to more sharply focus the minds of those involved in private law children proceedings on trying to achieve an agreed outcome. This is assisted by the more robust case management approach now widely used, and this has been particularly beneficial given the significant increase in the number of litigants in person now appearing before the Courts.
These have been some of the positive aspects of the implementation of the 2014 legislation.
However, on the negative side I am inclined to the view that the proforma Child Arrangements Programme (CAP) orders the Court expects all parties to use are somewhat cumbersome. The ‘one size fits all’ approach is not necessarily a change for the better as it fails to recognise that each case is different.
It is also interesting to note that the requirement to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) has not resulted in the increased use of mediation as the Government had hoped for. This is due to the removal of legal aid for most private family law cases following the implementation in April 2013 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
It is of course still relatively early days as the Children and Families Act has only been in force for 20 months. It will be interesting to review the position in another year’s time.
Meanwhile, the legal rights of grandparents in relation to their grandchildren has been an area of increasing interest over the last year or so. More and more grandparents have begun to assert their right to spend time with their grandchildren and the Courts increasingly recognise the very important role they place in family life.