- There should be a Family Justice Service established to oversee the family justice system.
- There should be judicial continuity in all family cases.
- Judges and magistrates should be enabled and encouraged to specialise in family matters.
- A single family court should be created, with a single point of entry, in place of the current three tiers of court. All levels of family judiciary (including magistrates) should sit in the family court and work would be allocated depending upon case complexity.
- With regard to public law, courts should refocus on the core issues of whether the child is to live with parents, other family or friends, or be removed to the care of the local authority. Other aspects and the detail of the care plan should be the responsibility of the local authority.
- A time limit for the completion of care and supervision proceedings within six months should be put into legislation.
- No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.
- A statement should be inserted into legislation to reinforce the importance of the child continuing to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, alongside the need to protect the child from harm.
- The need for grandparents to apply for leave of the court before making an application for contact should remain.
- Parents should be encouraged to develop a Parenting Agreement to set out arrangements for the care of their children post-separation.
- Residence and contact orders should no longer be available to parents who hold PR, but disputes over the division of a child’s time between parents should instead be resolved by a specific issue order.
- A father without PR who wishes the court to consider the child living with him (currently a residence order) should first apply for PR, and then negotiate for this to be included in the Parenting Agreement or apply for a specific issue order. If a father does not wish to seek PR he is still able to make a contact application.
- An online information hub and helpline should be established to give information and support for couples to resolve issues following divorce or separation outside court.
- Provision should be made to ensure that a signed Parenting Agreement has weight as evidence in any subsequent parental dispute.
- Where intervention is necessary it should be compulsory for the parties to attend a session with a mediator, who should assess the most appropriate intervention, including mediation and collaborative law, or whether the risks of domestic violence, imbalance between the parties or child protection issues require immediate referral to the family court; and provide information on local Dispute Resolution Services and how they could support parties to resolve disputes.
- Judges will retain the power to order parties to attend a mediation information session and may make cost orders where it is felt that one party has behaved unreasonably.
- Those parents who are still unable to agree should next attend a Separating Parent Information Programme and thereafter if necessary mediation or other dispute resolution service.
- Where agreement cannot be reached, having been given a certificate by the mediator, one or both of the parties will be able to apply to court for determination on a specific issue.
- The First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) should be retained. Where further court involvement is required after this, the case will be allocated to a track system according to complexity.
- Where an order is breached, a party should have access to immediate support to resolve the matter swiftly and the current enforcement powers should be available. The case should be heard within a fixed number of days, with the dispute resolved at a single hearing. If an order is breached after 12 months, the parties should be expected to return to Dispute Resolution Services before returning to court to seek enforcement.
- There should be no automatic link between contact and maintenance. When contact is continually frustrated and it is in the child’s best interests, the courts should have an additional enforcement mechanism available to enable them to alter or suspend the payment of maintenance.
- People in dispute about money or property should be expected to access the information hub and should be required to be assessed for mediation.
- Ancillary relief should be separately reviewed.
- The process for initiating divorce should begin with the online hub and should be dealt with administratively in the Family Justice Service, unless the divorce is disputed.
- The current two-stage process of decree nisi/decree absolute should be replaced by a single notice of divorce.
- Fees in private law should in principle reflect the full cost of services.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Family Justice Review Interim Report
The interim report of the Family Justice Review has been published today. Amongst its recommendations the following caught my eye: