April 22nd 2014 brought with it the new Single Family Court and a number of sweeping changes to the family justice system including compulsory MIAMS, different tiers of judges sitting alongside each other in the same Court building, changes to documentation used in divorce proceedings and the new Child Arrangements Programme to name but a few.
Speaking as a practitioner in West Yorkshire, Leeds is the central hub and centralised administrative centre for the Single Family Court in this area. From May 13th parallel listing commenced with private children cases being listed every Tuesday and Wednesday in Leeds County Court, with other Courts locally adopting similar arrangements. As local mediator I have been involved in setting up a rota based scheme in Leeds County Court for private children list days. So far we have given talks to the judiciary, Court staff, Magistrates and legal advisors, the Personal Support Unit and basically anyone who will listen to us - we have been doing our best to get the message of family mediation out there. We have produced a leaflet about mediation with details of local mediation services, copies of which will be placed locally in a variety of places around the community including health centres, play centres, citizens advice bureaus and the local courts.
So far what has changed? Well we are at Court and we have been getting enquiries from the personal support unit and local solicitors. The Court forms have changed and any applications for private children issues (now called "child arrangements orders") or orders for financial remedy upon divorce must be signed by a family mediator unless some limited exceptions apply to confirm attendance by the person intending to apply to Court. If the forms are not properly signed then the Court must refuse to issue the application and insist the applicant complies - is this happening? Well it is too soon to tell - we need to give it another 6 - 8 weeks at least.
Is the rota scheme working ? In all honesty we need dialogue and a working partnership with CAFCASS and we have a meeting arranged shortly to discuss how this will work.
In summary it is early days in a very new and evolving landscape - however the changes are here and as local mediation practitioners we need to do our best to embrace them and facilitate the best possible outcomes for clients and their children in order to reduce acrimony and delay inherent in the Court process and try to ensure that the Court process is utilised for those cases which need it the most. More to follow shortly ...