The Children and Families Act 2014 and the unified single Family Court

The 22 April 2014 saw far-reaching changes to the way that the courts operate both physically and statutorily. The president of the Family Division, Sir James Mumby, has hailed it as a ‘cultural revolution’. The introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014 abolishes the concepts of residence and contact and instead introduces the Child Arrangements Programme. The other major change sees the establishment of the single unified Family Court.

Despite much anticipation and discussion, on 22 April most practitioners were still pretty unclear as to what the ramifications of the new act would be. There had been some incremental changes incorporated by the court already, for instance to the way in which the introduction of expert evidence is dealt with in cases and also an attempt to curtail public law care cases to a 26-week limit.

Under the previous act, the Children Act 1989, parties applied for either a residence order that settled where a child lived or a contact order that settled what contact a child should have with a non-resident parent or other party. The act also established specific issue and prohibited steps orders to clarify issues relating specifically to parental responsibility. Under the new act, there is a significant attempt to move away from the strict nature of the previous terminology with the end of residence and contact orders and the introduction of child arrangement orders. Specific issue and prohibited steps remain as they were. After 20 years of residence and contact, the child arrangement order promises a different approach, freeing parents from the strict previous concepts. While there is no legal presumption of shared parenting as some would have liked, the change to child arrangements orders, it is hoped, will take the ‘sting out of the tail’ of proceedings and orders and will banish the view that one side wins and the other loses…

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