Welfare of Children Finally at Centre of Family Court
A new, single Family Court has been formed to replace the three-tiered system currently in place in England and Wales, with ministers agreeing that the welfare of the children involved should be at the very core of the system.
Family Courts deals with adoption cases, child abduction, divorce, legal guardianship of a child and parental responsibility, and there are around 270,000 new cases spanning these categories every year.
With the Family Courts unified into a single court, it means cases won’t be bouncing around county courts, magistrates’ courts and the Family Division of the High Court, with the aim of the same judge or magistrate hearing a case through from start to end.
A review was carried out of the Family Courts systems in 2011, which found the average length of a case concerning vulnerable children was more than a year (56 weeks), and they decided that something needed to be done about that. And although the length of time has been cut down considerably, it was thought that even more could be done. With a single Family Court, care cases can be seen through to completion within six months.
Amongst various other reforms, couples seeking separation will also be required to attend awareness sessions about mediation before taking any disputes about finances or children to court, so that they know exactly what will be involved and what could happen.
Sir James Munby is the Family Division’s President and said the changes are unlike any system reforms we might witness in our lifetimes again. “Taken as a whole, these reforms amount to a revolution,” he declared. “There has been – indeed, there had to be – a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution.”
Sir Munby added that visiting care centres across the country has shown him just how enthusiastically the reforms are being backed by everyone in the legal profession as well as child carers. “Everybody in the family justice system has embraced the process of reform,” he stated.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes, amongst whose roles include family justice and mediation, said that it is about time that children do not have to face such long delays and the confrontation of court battles if they can be kept away from it. “Our reforms will keep families away from negative effects or delays in court,” he explained, adding that when cases do make it to court, they proceed in the least damaging way for all involved.
Unifying the Family Courts into a single court, and ensuring that everyone involved becomes more aware of the various processes and consequences is indeed the revolution it has been proclaimed to be, and childrens’ welfare is finally being put at the heart of the Family Court.