There are a lot of Bills that do not become law but the Children & Families Bill is one that is very likely to be given Royal Assent soon, no doubt with a number of recommended amendments after it has been scrutinised by both the House of Commons and House of Lords. To have a better understanding of how Bills become law, please visit the Parliament Website.
The Bill sets out to make provision for vulnerable children and support for strong families. It will reform the current systems for Adoption, Family Justice, children with special educational needs (SEN) and looked after children.
Of particular importance to separating parents is the reforms proposed to the Family Justice System to help deliver better outcomes for families and children facing family break up or where children may have to be taken in to the care of the local authority.
The proposals are made as a direct result of the Family Justice Review to improve our Family Justice System. The key areas that will concern you if you are contemplating separation or you have already separated and you have dependant children are:
- The Bill proposes to replace the current ‘residence and contact orders’ with a new ‘child arrangements order’. This means that the Court will be asked to regulate arrangements for the child/ren and make decisions on whom the child should live, spend time or have other types of contact with if you cannot reach your own agreements either directly, via family mediation or other forms of dispute resolution. This should encourage both separating parents and the Court to focus on the content of any agreements/Orders, rather than the title/labels given to the arrangements.
- There will be a presumption of joint parental involvement (shared parenting) unless such involvement will put the child/ren at risk of suffering harm. It is hoped that this proposed amendment will reinforce the principle that both parents should play a key role in their child’s life/upbringing after separation subject to it being safe and consistent with the child’s welfare.
- Making it a mandatory requirement to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) with a regulated family mediator to find out about family mediation and other out of Court options to resolve disagreements about the child/ren’s arrangements before going to Court. Research studies have shown that family disputes resolved via mediation are less acrimonious than those that are settled through the Court system. Also, decisions made by agreement are more likely to be kept as opposed to Court imposed Orders.
- Introduction of a 26 week limit for cases to be concluded when an application has been made by a local authority to take a child/ren into its care. This to avoid the current unacceptable delays in such cases.
Please read the fact sheet provided on the Department of Education website for more information on the proposed changes. It is intended that this Bill will become law by April 2014.