The new Children and Families Act 2014 has been given Royal Assent and most of the provisions contained within the Act will come into force on 22 April 2014 to coincide with the introduction of the Single Family Court. The Act has been designed to shift from the negative effects that going to Court can have and to use alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation. The Act has also been designed to reduce delays within the Court system.
The main aims of the Act are:-
- To give families easier access to flexible childcare by increasing the supply of high quality, affordable childcare and to introduce child-minding agencies to encourage and support more child-minders into the profession and to remove the ‘red tape’ to enable more schools to offer a wraparound facility.
- To give young carers and parent carers greater support.
- To provide new family justice measures to protect the welfare of children, such as a requirement to attend a Mediation and Information Assessment meeting before applying for a Court Order to encourage parents to use alternative methods of resolving family issues and by making it clear to separated parents that the Court will take into account the principle that both parents should be involved in their children’s lives following separation where it is safe and consistent to do so.
Part 2 of the Act provides for improvement within the operations of the family justice system to lead to a quicker system with the best interests of the children at the heart of decision making. The Act is also designed to ensure that cases involving children entering the care system will be dealt with within 26 weeks to enable children to be placed as quickly as possible.
- To provide amendments to the law regarding protecting children in cars from the dangers of second-hand smoking.
- To help families have a better work/home balance by providing mothers, fathers and adopters with the option to share parental leave around a child’s birth or placement and to provide parents with the option to request flexible working hours which employers will have to ‘reasonably consider.’
The new law does not introduce equal division of a child’s time with each parent. It merely reinforces the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests. The new Act is not here to promote the equal division of a child’s time between separated parents. However, the court will be required to presume that, “unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare”. The court will have to look at whether “that parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm”.
The “contact order” and “residence order” will be replaced by a “child arrangements order” which will set out “(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and (b) where a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person”. The new terminology is therefore more neutral and may assist parents to come to an agreement without going to court.
If you would like further advice in connection with the matters raised in this article then please contact Miss Vincent in our family department on 01926 422 101.