There have been significant changes this year regarding how Family Law is practised in England.
In April we lost the old Principal Registry and Divorce County Courts and in their place we now have The Family Court. The former Principal Registry in London is now the Central Family Court. We have yet to see if these new names in fact bring any actual benefits to the users of the Courts.
We also saw a new system of compulsory mediation before anyone is allowed to issue an application in Court. This is in respect of financial disputes and disputes regarding the children. The hope that couples whose relationship has broken down will be able to effectively negotiate an amicable resolution is perhaps optimistic to say the least.
The old Residence and Contact Orders regarding children have now been binned and replaced with a new Child Arrangements Order. This is in the hope that parents will put aside their disagreements and continue to act in the best interest of the children without there being a need for a court order. Again, for practitioners on the ground this is certainly an optimistic view. As you will appreciate, one of the unfortunate aspects of relationship breakdown is the impact upon the children and there are a significant number of continuing disputes with regard to how often children see the parent who has left or been forced to leave the matrimonial home.
Of course, the government’s aim is to remove the whole system of divorce and ancillary matters from the Court process. It is difficult to understand how this could be regarded as an improvement since somebody is going to have to determine disputes when all attempts to reach an amicable resolution fail. Inevitably, in any relationship breakdown there is always going to be a strong party and a weaker party and unless we are all very careful prejudice and unfairness could well creep into the system.
As solicitors, therefore, our role is changing. We are having to adapt to a totally new environment but at the same time ensure our clients are protected and guided. Marriage and children are two of the most fundamental and important aspects of life. When a relationship fails for whatever reason it is imperative that both parties and the children are able to achieve the best outcomes. We will have to see whether or not these changes will bring about that best outcome or whether or not in fact these so called reforms will only succeed in creating more problems. I would suggest that it is more than ever necessary to have specific guidance from your own solicitor to guide you through this new and difficult process. Our work is changing and our role within the system is changing. However, people and their relationships do not change. It is now more than ever essential that good legal advice is received.