Family law reforms come into force in England & Wales

The new Family Court in England and Wales comes into force today as part of a major shake-up for the family justice system.

A single Family Court for England and Wales replaces three separate tiers of court that currently deal with family proceedings.

Other changes include a new 26-week time limit for care proceedings to further reduce excessive delays in these cases.

Reforms to the family justice system came after an independent Family Justice Review in 2011 found vulnerable and damaged children who were meant to be protected were having their “futures undermined”.

Excessive delays, with care and supervision cases taking an average of 56 weeks, were among some of the problems identified by the review led by David Norgrove.

Liberal Democrat family justice minister Simon Hughes said: “For too long children have suffered from excessive delays and confrontational court battles.

“Our reforms will keep families away from negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court they happen in the least damaging way.”

Conservative Edward Timpson, children and families minister, said: “Every child deserves a safe and stable home – no matter what their background or starting point in life.

“The new 26-week time limit will reduce unnecessary delays by ensuring that judges focus on the facts without getting caught up in unnecessary evidence or bureaucracy.

“These reforms will mean a swifter system where children’s best interests are placed – where they rightly should be – at the heart of decision making.”

Other reforms include expert evidence in family proceedings concerning children only being permitted when necessary and c ompulsory family mediation meetings so separating couples consider alternatives to court battles.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division said: “Today marks the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes.

“Taken as a whole, these reforms amount to a revolution. There has been, indeed there had to be, a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution.

“I have visited every care centre to see for myself how it is taking shape.

“These visits have brought home to me just how enthusiastically and with such determination and commitment everybody in the family justice system has embraced the process of reform: local authorities, CAFCASS, court staff, judges (in whom, of course, I include the magistrates), justices clerks and the legal professions.”