New family court reforms put children’s wellbeing foremost

Family court reforms Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
April 24, 2024
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New rules coming into force on 29 April 2024 in England and Wales will put the wellbeing of children at the foremost during a separation, with the aim of better protecting them from the devastating impact of lengthy courtroom battles between disputing parents, says Mat Derbyshire, Partner and Children Law solicitor at Tallents Solicitors.


With more than 60,000 private law children and contested finance cases going through the family courts in 2022, the family court reforms aim to help separating couples resolve their issues amicably without ever having to go to court.


As of June 2023, it’s taking an average of 47 weeks for private family law cases to reach a final order, so with these reforms the government has committed to reducing this timeframe to allow families to reach amicable solutions and be able to move on with their lives.


The government wants to encourage and promote non-court options, such as mediation, which has proved to be very successful in helping families resolve their disputes and find solutions that work for them all, rather than one which is imposed by a judge and the courts.


By ensuring separating couples have access to key information, early legal advice and improved mediation to help them find solutions for their disputes without going to court, it’s hoped that families will be able to agree their child arrangements more quickly.


Mediators will be supported by the Family Mediation Council with training to improve domestic abuse screening and allow them to carry out advanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks, which will give them to right to vet and support children earlier in the separation process.


Justice Minister Lord Bellamy said: “These reforms are about helping those who need it the most. By elevating the voice of the child and reducing strife in a court room, we will give our children the best chance of growing up to becoming well-adjusted adults.”


The government has also pledged to work alongside Cafcass – an independent body which advises family courts on what is safe for children and in their best interests – to help more families undertake parenting programmes early in the process, rather than by court order.


For couples who do end up in court, the government has committed to expanding a successful pilot in North Wales and Dorset, which was aimed at reducing conflict. Initially, it will be expanded to the family courts in Birmingham and Southeast Wales, ahead of a national roll out.


Keeping children at the heart of this model, it aims to minimise conflict in private family law proceedings, strengthening children’s voices in the process, so that their wishes and views are also considered, and that greater support is provided to parents who need it.


Additionally, the reforms will free up legal resources for those in serious need of the court’s involvement and protection, such as domestic abuse and child safety.


The pilot has also allowed judges to review more documents before a case gets to court, to prevent further conflict in the courtroom, and have been shown to give children extra opportunities to explain how they feel about decisions which affect their future.


Mat concludes: “The process of separation and divorce can impose an incredibly lasting toll on children who are caught between disputing parents as they try to agree on how much time should be spent with each of them and reach appropriate financial and child maintenance arrangements.


“Through these important reforms, more information and support are being made available to parents to allow them to understand possible options as they move through the family justice system. By putting children’s welfare at the heart of these reforms, it’s hoped that families will be able to resolve their differences with reduced conflict and thereby reach the right decision for their family earlier.”


If you need help and support on issues like this, then our Family Law and Children Law solicitors are here to help you. Just call one of our three offices in Newark, Southwell or Mansfield to make a confidential appointment. We also offer a free Family Law phone-in clinic on Tuesday evenings 5-7pm. Just call 01636 813411 to speak to someone in confidence.

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This legal content of this article is correct at the date of publishing. We recommend you seek legal advice with regards to your personal circumstances before acting.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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