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Family Law News

jungle“It’s like a jungle, sometimes I wonder

How I keep from going under.

Uh huh, huh.  Huh huh.”

There are three reasons why these philosophical words come to me as I begin this article.

1) It means that this must be the first update on the law that begins with a seminal piece  of 1980’s rap.  It had to be done.  You’re reading legal history people.

2) It is a fitting metaphor for the amount of changes in the law we are currently having to navigate- (see what I did there?)

3) In truth, these are the words that come into my head as I sit to write this piece,  watching the neighbour’s cat go feral in  the grassy savannah which we used to call “the lawn.” Hey, I’m nothing if not honest. Anyone else been given the excuse of April rain in June as the reason for dust continuing to collect on the lawn-mower?

I ‘m dithering as I type because there are so many recent changes in the law that could be covered…  Here are my selected highlights

ChildrenChild Arrangement Orders

This country has immensely sane laws about children.  Essentially, non-interventionist, Courts respect the role that parents play in their children’s lives and try to manage these roles with as light a touch as possible.  The Law  therefore discourages where it can, the labelling of those roles    The words “custody”  and “children” for example should never be put together in one sentence.  For years we have referred to children residing with one parent whilst have contact with the other.

It is hard to see how we could improve on this structure, but the new Family Act  2014, which came into full effect on 22nd April , has done just that.  It now refers to child orders as simply “arrangement orders” so that neither parent can consider themselves the headline act in their children’s’ lives.  Anyone with whom a child usually lives,. will be referred to as just that and nothing else  (such as “resident parent” as was previously the case).  It may seem trite but it means so much to parents who want to get on with the job in hand without having to live up to labels or struggle under them.

Family Courts

You may be surprised to learn that there haven’t been any before.  Crazy, I know.  Well that gaping hole has now been filled.   The County Court and the family branch of the Magistrates Court will now be a seamless united Court under the one banner of Family Court.  Parents can shop for all their children’s needs in the one place which, like milk, is brilliant isn’t it?  Why did no-one think of this before?  In York we have now centralised our Family Court in one building so that the Family Justices and Family Judges sit in the Family Court in Piccadilly House .  I don’t like to be snobby, but I’m going to be – you get a drinks machine and nicer loos in the Family Court – result.

Time Limits

There are now much stricter edicts about the time within which children’s cases can be completed.  This is not always a good thing.  Courts had the ability to review child arrangements before they were enshrined in an order, to road test them as it were.  There are arguments for saying that cases involving children should be kept to the shortest possible time-frame.  There are better arguments for saying that we should let Judges and Justices do their job and allow their discretion to decide what is best on each individual case.  I harbour a strong suspicion that any other argument is really about costs and not kids.  Oh blow it- it’s not a suspicion – it’s a fervently held belief.

Divorce/Civil Partnership Dissolution

The major change is simply that children will no longer be referred to in separate papers accompanying their parent’s divorce petitions/ papers.   There has been some attempt to hack away at the god-awful forms but they are just as bad as before.


Where there are children, you have very little excuse now for not going to mediation before launching into Court proceedings.  I have a recent client who tells me that in his country of origin, the Courts hold mediation sessions at Court.  That has to be a good idea and allows the experience of a designated family judge to be brought into any decision-making for children from the very start. This change is therefore an improvement but with money invested in the right places. it could be better still.

Legal Aid

This old warhorse was finally put out of its misery last year.  We can only use legal aid in very limited circumstances.  Parents facing care proceedings, people who require injunctions, partners or spouses who can prove the limited grounds for domestic violence or people accused of crime, can all seek legal aid.  Some of them still have to prove that they are of limited means as well. Those of us who are still prepared to provide a la carte services for fish and chip prices, will be able to help you (including yours truly where family work is concerned).    The shoddy economics behind the wholesale slaughter of  our fine legal aid system is already showing itself up. Our  courts are having to look after the cases of those who have to represent themselves. This is time-consuming and therefore costly.  There has been no report commissioned into the build-up of court waiting lists or the perceived injustices of those who can’t  afford any legal action/advice.  There won’t ever be because the powers that be won’t like what they would have to read.

Conclusion – this change is a bad thing.  It’s not a vote winner so it will remain ever thus.

There, my opus is done.  I didn’t realise that there was so much to report and my typing fingers have gone numb.

So what have we learned folks?  Well, that I have hopefully provided some heated debate for some of you and some ready-made opinions for others,  who now want to go off and read the mail online gossip page for light relief – that’s what I’m doing next anyway.  It also teaches you that I am of the era where Grand-Master Flash ruled in a desert of disco music.  Yeppp, I’m the one who gets up to do embarrassing mum-dancing when a certain tune comes on.

Family Law