The Family Justice Review recommended substantial changes to speed up care proceedings, to help family justice operate better as a system and to help divorcing or separating couples avoid the need to undertake court proceedings.
The key aspects of the Children and Families Act 2014 means that the piloted 26-week timetable for care proceedings is now statute and can be extended for up to 8 weeks at a time as long as the Court can be satisfied that the extension is necessary to enable the Court to resolve the proceedings justly. Each application to extend the proceedings must be made to the court.
Interim Care Orders and Interim Supervision Orders are no longer renewed after every 28 days and will, if granted, last for the duration of the proceedings pending a final decision from the Court or until further order of the Court.
The Court is now only required to consider the permanence part of a child’s Care Plan when making a Court Order and do not have to consider the rest of the Care Plan. This is bolstered by the introduction of foster to adopt placements where the Local Authority is encouraged to place children with already approved prospective adopters where they are considering adoption as a possibility for a child.
Instruction of experts within care proceedings is only to be ordered if necessary to resolve the case justly and there is no other expert already involved within the case that could realistically provide this information to the Court.
The Children and Families Act 2014 also saw reform to the provision for post adoption contact and inserted Section 51A into the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This allows for those with leave to make an application for contact with a child post adoption taking place. This provision does however also allow those adopting a child to apply for an order to prevent post-adoption contact taking place.
For private law proceedings, the Children and Families Act 2014 has seen Contact and Residence Orders change to Child Arrangements Order where a child will either live with and/ or spend with the non-resident parent. Parents wishing to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order are now required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) prior to the matter going to Court to see if the issues can be resolved outside of the Court arena.
The emphasis was also placed on the Court now taking the view that the child should have both parents in their lives where it is safe and consistent to do so. Should either parent breach a Child Arrangements Order consideration will be given to imposing activities designed to make them understand the importance of complying with Court Orders and making them work.