10 things you need to know about family law reform

10 things you need to know about family law reform

As I’ve been busily head down writing and updating content with seemingly endless law reform changes over the past few months (and we are currently at the eye of the storm…) I thought I would list ten important things about family law reform in 2014. In no particular order (and you may spot a theme...), these are my thoughts. Do comment if you think of anything else for the list.

  1. There’s a lot of it! No really, changes everywhere. Don’t under estimate how much will change, this isn’t just about the single family court or changes in terminology or even a new court seal. This is radical reform.
  2. The changes to the pre-application protocol for mediation information and assessment (MIAM) – from 22 April attendance at a MIAM will be compulsory for applicants prior to issuing proceedings save in certain specified circumstances (largely relating to domestic abuse). A new Family Procedure Rules 2010 (FPR 2010), PD 3A will be issued and new forms. This applies to all 'relevant family proceedings' (the limited list of proceedings the protocol doesn't apply to is in PD 3A).
  3. The single family court – comes into effect on 22 April 2014 and replaces the current three tiers of court structure (family proceedings court, county court, High Court), save that the High Court will retain exclusive jurisdiction over a limited number of cases. One of the most important aspects is changes to allocation and transfer of proceedings. Appeals are also changing. On the surface the single family court might seem similar, particularly with hearings taking place in existing court buildings, but there are many procedural changes ahead. See also: Preparation for the single family court.
  4. Child arrangement orders – clients (and particularly television programme makers…) have never really got the hang of ‘residence’ and ‘contact’,   well now there is new terminology for them to get used to ‘child arrangement orders’. Procedure is changing, but the underlying principles as to the child’s welfare stay the same and the much debated provisions in the Children and Families Act 2014 (CFA 2014), s 11 providing that ‘unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child's welfare’ doesn’t yet have a commencement date. See also: The new CAP for private law work – will it fit and do we want to wear it?
  5. No more Statement of Arrangements - CFA 2014, s 17 repeals section 41 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and section 63 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. If arrangements for children cannot be agreed after 22 April 2014, an application should be made to the court under the Children Act 1989.
  6. Family forms – see What do you need to know about the updated family court forms?
  7. A revised Public Law Outline – PLO 2014 is yet to be issued but will come into effect on 22 April and is expected to be largely similar to the PLO pilot scheme in place since July 2013 but it would be prudent to expect some changes from the pilot scheme (NB a Public Law Outline 2014 Flowchart is now available). See also: All change for children law.
  8. Marriage of same-sex couples – the majority of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2014 provisions came into force on 13 March 2014, notable however are the provisions for which no implementation date has yet been fixed ie for the conversion of civil partnerships and for amendments to the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
  9. Transparency - the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, issued practice guidance on 16 January 2014 regarding the publication of judgments in the family courts. The guidance took effect from 3 February 2014. He indicated in his tenth ‘View’ that he will be issuing further draft practice guidance for discussion and comment dealing with the disclosure to the media of certain categories of document. Watch this space, and expect even more changes in this area later in 2014.
  10. There’s  a lot of change – it's worth repeating!

And what isn't changing? Standard family orders, at least not yet. Mostyn J's project is still in consultation with a further batch of draft orders to be issued but, for the time being, they are not obligatory.

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About the author:

Geraldine is Head of LexisPSL Family. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1992 and was in practice for 15 years, most recently as a partner and head of the family team at Hart Brown, a large Surrey firm.

Geraldine writes for Butterworths Family Law Service and is a past editor of the Resolution Review. She has been published in the New Law Journal, the Law Society Gazette and the District Judges’ Bulletin as well as in the national press including the Times and the Telegraph.

When in practice she was a member of the Law Society Family and Children Panels, and an accredited Resolution Specialist with a focus on advanced financial provision and pensions. A past Resolution regional secretary and press officer, Geraldine also contributed chapters to the Resolution publications, International Aspects of Family Law (3rd Edition 2009) and The Modern Family (2012).