The Children and Families Act 2014 has received royal assent. The act includes changes to the law intended to give greater protection to vulnerable children, better support for children whose parents are separating, a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities, and help for parents to balance work and family life. In particular, it includes provisions intended to create a more efficient and effective family justice system. These include making it a requirement to attend a family mediation, information and assessment meeting (‘MIAM’) to find out about and consider mediation before applying for certain types of court order, sending a signal to separated parents that courts will take account of the principle that both should continue to be involved in their children’s lives and introducing a maximum 26-week time limit for completing care proceedings. Most of the family justice provisions in the act will come into force on the 22nd of April, at the same time as the launch of the new single family court.
The proportion of children whose parents are raising them together rose from 67% in 2010/11 to 69% in 2011/12, according to the latest Family Stability Indicator. The indicator is one element of the government’s Social Justice Strategy, aimed at supporting the most disadvantaged families and individuals. The increase is more prominent for those children in low income households, with a 3 percentage point rise from 45% in 2010/11 to 48% in 2011/12. This means that around 75,000 more children in low income households are living with both of their birth parents.
The legal consumer watchdog the Legal Services Consumer Panel and the Legal Services Board, the independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales, have jointly commissioned research into online do-it-yourself divorce document services. “We see that many consumers are attracted by the wider choice, convenience, speed and cost benefits of such approaches, although we also foresee potential risks such as unclear regulatory boundaries and privacy,” said a panel spokesman. The study will report in the summer.
Victims of domestic abuse cases could be handed an exemption from having to give their safe addresses in open court, after a change in the law was backed by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister. Mr Clegg said that his party supported calls for stricter measures to protect victims after one case came to light last year in which a woman was threatened with contempt of court for refusing to publicly hand over her safe address.
Mr Justice Holman has spoken out against the court time taken by wealthy international litigants engaged in ‘out of control’ divorce proceedings. He made his comments in the case Chai v Peng, in which the wife was seeking further maintenance pending suit from her husband, who lives in Malaya. The judge said the aggregate court fees paid by the parties to date are ‘a mere’ £2,355 – for which they have had all or part of six days of court time in England. A hearing of two days has been fixed for this spring, with a further 10 days of court time set aside in October to decide whether the divorce takes place in England or Malaysia.
And finally, children separated from their parents in secret family court judgments must be able to find out the reasons for the courts decisions when they grow up, the most senior family judge has said. President of the Family Division Sir James Munby said it was of “great concern” that the judgments of all family court judges were not routinely transcribed and published. He said that this is a “major issue” for the children affected by judgments, who are then unable to find out at a later date why a judge came to a decision that may have affected the course of the rest of their life.