LEGAL REFORMS

Since the second edition of Fathers Matter was published in March 2007 there have been significant developments and reforms in this area of family law. Family law must constantly evolve and develop to meet the needs and requirements of our ever-changing society.  The term ‘family unit’ has taken on a whole new meaning with all the different familial relationships and arrangements that now exist in our modern society – it is an unenviable task attempting to meet the needs and requirements of all those families and a constant challenge to anyone working within the family justice system, particularly as the system is much in need of reformation.

The Final Report of the Family Justice Review Panel, chaired by David Norgrove, was published in November 2011. As part of its review, the Panel called for views on how the family justice system might be improved to create a more accessible and child focused system, and which enables families to settle their disputes without resorting to court proceedings.

The Family Procedure Rules (FPR) 2010 came into force on 6 April 2011 and now govern the practice and procedure to be followed in family proceedings in the High Court, County Courts and the Magistrates Court in England & Wales. The FPR 2010 has had an enormous impact on procedure.  The Government has placed great emphasis on resolving disputes without resorting to court through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) but the fact is for there to be effective reform there must be sufficient resources and funding, and with the family justice system already hugely under-resourced where is this additional money to come from bearing in mind the enormous cuts to public funding, and the radical reform in the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which will affect recipients of family legal aid? With cuts meaning that there will be next to no public funding for private law applications under the Children Act 1989 and therefore no access to legal representation for many there will be significantly increased numbers of litigants in person who must receive due consideration from the Court.

Since the second edition was published in March 2007 there have been a number of other developments. In May that year a new Ministry of Justice (MOJ) was established replacing the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) with responsibility for policy on civil, criminal, family and the administrative justice system as well as the courts, tribunals, legal aid and constitutional reform. Family Court Hearings were opened to accredited media from 1 April 2009. The Supreme Court opened its doors on 1 October 2009.  The Department for Children, Schools & Families became the Department for Education in 2010.

It is to be hoped that with a greater emphasis on out of court settlements more cases will settle. However, it is likely that the cases that do not settle will be the most intractable ones where there are high levels of conflict between the parties and which have little chance of resolution without court intervention. These parties will still be within the court system and they will need ‘in court’ resources and access to specialist legal advice but again that comes down to available resources. The whole area of enforcement of contact orders continues to be beset with difficulties and the heated debate on shared parenting grows ever hotter. The Government is intending to introduce legislation to make it a presumption in law that a child’s welfare is furthered by the involvement of both parents, where it is safe and in the child’s best interests.

With more families where there is one parent who comes from overseas, applications to relocate, that is, for leave to remove a child from the jurisdiction, have increased. In terms of paternity and parentage, The Human Fertilization & Embryology Act 2008 removed the law that required Doctors to consider a child’s need for a father before referring a woman for IVF treatment.

As well as completing revising the second edition, this third edition includes separate chapters on paternity and parentage to take account of the Human Fertilization & Embryology Act 2008 and the development of new family relationships, parental responsibility, children (including a section on children giving evidence); grandparents and the extended family; litigants in person; Human Rights & the family; child support, disclosure, confidentiality, privacy and media access; and appeals, and expanded sections on alternative dispute resolution (ADR); contact and enforcement, domestic violence, shared residence, relocation and legal funding. Mindful that there has been important case law over recent years case reference details for cases which might be of further assistance are included and finally, there is an appendix of some useful ‘resources’ and addresses at the back of the book.