Since April 2014 courts have been making child arrangement orders instead of residence and contacts orders. The new orders have two main elements to serve:
- with whom a child is to live and when
- with whom, when and how a child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with someone
Whilst the new child arrangement orders appear to be very similar to residence and contact orders, it is hoped the new scheme will encourage parents to consider the needs of the children following a separation and will reach an amicable agreement instead of entering into a legal battle.
From the courts perspective, under Section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (which was rolled out on 22nd October 2014), they will now base decisions on child welfare on the presumption of continued parental involvement. This means family courts will consider involvement from both parents to be in the best interests of the child, where safe. However, the welfare of a child will remain the number one priority.
The new laws do not mean a shared residence arrangement will be granted or equal time with both parents. It is hoped the new scheme will ‘promote greater understanding about the way in which court decisions are made… and encourage separated parents to adopt less rigid and confrontational positions with regards to the arrangements for their children’.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:
We have made bold reforms so that the welfare of children is at the heart of the family justice system, and there can be no doubt that parents play a very important role in every child’s life. Following break up of relationships we are encouraging all parents to focus on the needs of the child rather than what they want for themselves.
No parent should be excluded from their child’s life for no good reason. This change in the law is not about giving parents new ‘rights’ but makes clear to parents and everybody else that the family courts will presume that each parent will play a role in the future life of their child.
Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson:
Having spent almost 10 years as a family barrister, I know nothing is more important than taking the time to listen to children and making sure their voices are heard loud and clear.
This is a brand new system which puts the needs of children first, protects families from harmful and stressful battles in the courtroom and gives them greater support.
This is further supported by the introduction of compulsory mediation under the Act. Both parties are expected to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before making an application to the court.