Single Family Court
As from 22 April 2014 a Single Family Court will deal with all family cases. Instead of a Court Application being made to either the Family Proceedings Court (Magistrates), the County Court for hearing by District Judges, or the County Court for hearing by a Circuit Judge, all applications will now be made to a Single Family Court.
Another important change implemented from 22 April is that before the Court Office will issue any Family Court Application it is a requirement (unless they are exempt from doing so) for the Applicant to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Exemptions relate to agreed Orders or emergency applications. The Respondent is expected to attend a MIAM but at the present time is not required to do so. The Court has power to adjourn proceedings so that non-Court dispute resolution can be attempted.
So provided the Applicant has attended a MIAM or is exempt from doing so, the local Family Court Office will issue a Family Application which will then be allocated to the three different tiers within the Single Court by a gatekeeping team comprising District Judges, Court Legal Advisors and Cafcass. There will be an opportunity to be transferred within the three tiers as the case progresses and also in the midst of a Court hearing if appropriate.
In anticipation of 22 April the allocation/gatekeeping arrangements have been operating at the Combined Court Centre in Hull for the last couple of months so far as Children Act Applications are concerned.
There are likely to be teething problems with the allocation of cases. Recently a Colleague's case was allocated to a Court Legal Advisor with a view that it was appropriate for Magistrates to deal with the case only for the Court Legal Advisor to realise part way through the hearing that they not have power to accept an undertaking. The Parties had to wait an hour and half before they could see a District Judge who had the power to accept an undertaking. The correct allocation is clearly going to be key to a smooth running of the new Family Court.
Only time will tell whether the requirement for an Applicant to attend a MIAM will lead to the Government's desired increase in use of mediation in Family cases. The new requirement applies to financial applications as well as children cases.
Rollits have three accredited Mediators qualified to undertake MIAMS for both private and funded Applicants - please contact Leanne Tripp on 01482 337 297 to organise an appointment.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.