Family Courts up and down the country are gearing up to deal with the proposed new changes to the law and also the procedure of private family children applications. It is envisaged that from 1st April this year (2014) Residence and Contact orders will no longer exist and instead arrangements for the care of children will be made under new Child Arrangements Orders. The intention is that this will assist parties to recognise that each parent should play an active role in their children's lives (save for circumstances where there are serious welfare concerns). The Government did not follow suit with the Australian model of the automatic presumption of 50/50 care. However the new Child Arrangements Programme does represent a major change in the law.
What is also changing fundamentally is the procedure of how applications will be dealt with and managed. Under the proposed changes under the new Child Arrangements Programme and anticipated changes to the Family Procedure Rules, the applicant MUST attend a mediation information and assessment appointment (MIAMS) before issuing proceedings. If this is not complied with then the Court staff will be under an obligation to refuse to issue the application. The issue of mediation attendance must then be considered by the gatekeeping judge who lists the proceedings and decides which Court will hear the application. At the first directions appointment the magistrates or judge hearing the application will then be under a duty to actively consider mediation and save for exceptional circumstances direct that the Respondent to the application also attend a MIAMS appointment (if that have not already done so), adjourning proceedings where necessary to enable this direction to be complied with.
Mediators in different regions of England and Wales are in the process of setting up Court based duty rota schemes so that mediators will be attendance at Court and where appropriate carry out MIAMS appointments at Court.
These are very significant changes which will hopefully assist parties to put the needs of their children first. Further the changes place much firmer obligations on the Court and Court staff to actively ensure compliance with MIAMS attendance and also actively consider mediation at every stage of the Court process.