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Children and Families Act 2014 – what’s new?

This is a new Act of Parliament in force from 22 April 2014.  It makes several significant changes to the Children Act 1989 which is the law governing court cases about children.  This article refers to the changes in cases between individuals (known as Private Law) and not where Social Care has started the case (known as Public Law).

The main changes are the following:

  • It is now compulsory to be assessed for the suitability of mediation – this is called a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (or MIAM for short). There are a few limited exceptions for when you do not have to attend a MIAM but generally, if you have not attended a MIAM, your Court application will not be issued.
  • The new Act introduces the concept of “continued parental involvement”.  This is not shared or equal parenting as is frequently reported in the media but rather it means the starting point of any Court application will be that it is presumed both parents will remain involved with their children’s lives in some way.  It means being involved in some way – even if it is only indirectly by letters or telephone calls, and it does not mean that parents will automatically be able to expect to have equal care.
  • The third main change in the Act is effectively a change of terminology – until 21 April 2014, the Court could make Residence Orders (which determined who the child will live with) and Contact Orders (which determined who the child will see or spend time with).  The new Act changes this.  The plan for who the child lives with, and who the child spends time with will now be called a “Child Arrangements Order” which will be a single order that covers the arrangements for who a child will live with, spend time with or have contact with and when.

Although the Act is in force from 22 April 2014, it will have an effect on all cases, both new ones and those already in Court.  This means if you are in the middle of an application for a Residence Order or a Contact order, the new Act will change your case to an application for a Child Arrangements Order.

It is going to be much more important to think about going to mediation than ever before.  Even during a case, where appropriate, the Court will be able to refer the parents out to mediation once again and this will mean a big shift in thinking from relying on the Court to make an Order to trying to resolve your children’s arrangements ourselves wherever you can.

If you have a case about your children’s arrangements already or you are trying to sort this out with your partner, call to speak to one of our specialists at Miles & Partners on 020 7426 0400 as we will be able to help and guide you through all these changes – either by giving you legal advice or by offering mediation to assist you both in making a plan for your children.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.