New family justice reform comes into force

Published: 23rd April 2014

The largest family justice reform of a generation has come into effect, which will see major changes to the family justice system, as well as a new combined Family Court in England and Wales.

The changes will see family justice provisions implemented from the Children and Families Act, which are focused on improving the justice system for children of separating and divorcing couples and children that are taken into care.

Following an independent Family Justice Review in 2011, the government proposed these changes to the family justice system as they found that children were having their 'futures undermined' by long delays, with some supervision and care cases taking 56 weeks. With concerns about the wellbeing and future development of children, the government responded by issuing a wide ranging reform to better address the needs of vulnerable children.

"For too long children have suffered from excessive delays and confrontational court battles. Our reforms will keep families away from the negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court, they happen in the least damaging way", said Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes.

Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister added, "The new 26 week time limit will reduce unnecessary delays by ensuring that judges focus on the facts without getting caught up in unnecessary evidence or bureaucracy. These reforms will mean a swifter system where children's best interests are placed - where they rightly should be - at the heart of decision making."

The reform will see the following changes to the family justice system:

  • Separating couples must attend a mediation awareness session before taking disputes over their finances or their children to court
  • A new single Family Court in England and Wales has been introduced to make processes simpler but to also ensure that the correct judge is appointed to the correct case, to try and reduce the number of unnecessary delays caused by transferring cases between courts.
  • Senior family judges will have more time to focus on the more complex cases, as their assistants and clerks are now authorised to assist all judges.
  • A 26 week time limit for care proceedings has been introduced to help reduce long delays and give greater certainty to the children involved.
  • The introduction of new child arrangement orders that will help parents to focus on the needs of the child, as opposed to what they see as their own 'rights'
  • A new limit on the expert evidence that can be used in cases surrounding children and new rules on the circumstances as to when this evidence is necessary and can be used

President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby said, "Today marks the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes. Taken as a whole, these reforms amount to a revolution. There has been, indeed there had to be, a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution."

These changes to the family justice system are part of the government's social justice strategy, which is focused on improving the way we function as a society and helping vulnerable children in difficult circumstances to get the support they need in order to allow them to develop in the future.

For more information on family mediation or to discuss your circumstances, contact the team at K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 020 7070 0330 (Central London).

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