I’ve always argued that, when it comes to the law, you should get the best advice you can afford. You might think that I would say that, but I do believe it is especially true when it comes to divorce and the long-term implications of the decisions you make.
I make this point now because two forces are converging to make life even more complicated for those in the throes of separation and divorce; especially those with children.
Firstly, support for legal aid has all but vanished for most family matters. As a result many couples are opting to represent themselves in court.
Then, in April 2013 , the whole landscape of family law in the UK changed as the Children and Families Act 2014 became law and a new, single family court, came into being with Section 17(3) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
The aim of these changes has been to put the welfare of children at the heart of decisions on family matters; to speed up the whole process; and to encourage families to use court as a last resort when resolving disputes.
But it does mean a whole new obstacle course for those thinking of divorce.
For example, the Statement of Arrangements in which you spelled out exactly what the arrangements were for your children and precisely what was agreed and what was not, has been removed, along with Residence and Contact orders.
Under the new law, a Child Arrangements Order will state with whom, and when, a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.
Controversially, the new single Family Court is expected to presume that continued involvement by each parent will further the child’s welfare unless the contrary is shown.
And, in an effort to encourage parents to avoid litigation wherever possible, there is now a compulsory requirement for parents to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (“MIAM”). If proceedings do become necessary, then your case will be allocated to the Court or Designated Family Centre closest to where you live. There will no longer be a choice.
This note only touches on some of the issues arising from these major changes to the family law landscape — changes, which are challenging enough for us lawyers but are a potential minefield for parents.
So even if you are contemplating ‘going it alone’, get the best advice you can on those decisions that will affect the rest of your life and the future of your family.