This Act received Royal Assent on 13th March and will bring in some important changes to the law and practice relating to families and children in the Court process on 22nd April 2014.
The most important change in practice is the requirement that any person wishing to commence proceedings relating to a child must attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting known as a MIAM. Whilst this is supposed to happen now it has not been regularly enforced by the Courts and there have been different approaches in different parts of the country.
It is understood that a change in the procedure will mean that an accredited mediator will have to endorse the application form to confirm the applicant, at least, has attended such a meeting.
Family Justice and Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes, said:
“We are making sure the welfare of children is at the heart of the family justice system.
“We want to keep families away from the negative effects that going to court can have and to use alternative solutions when they are suitable. This is why we have changed the law to make sure that separating couples always consider mediation as an alternative to a courtroom battle.”
We are not yet clear what will happen to those cases where the current form known as FM1 has been issued by us but the proceedings have not been started and if there will be some transitional arrangements.
There is also a major change in terminology moving away from concepts of residence and contact to what is to be known as a “child arrangements order”, which will deal with:
(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and
(b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person;”.
Mediation provides a neutral venue for parents and others caring for children to have a managed and structured discussion with a trained professional to put aside personal differences and concentrate on what is in the best interests of the child. Depending on the child’s age and maturity it is also possible for their voices to be heard and we have mediators who are specially trained to hear what children have to say and feed that back to the parents in the mediation process.