The Children and Families Act 2014 – Key Measures

Nicola Furmston

The Children and Families Act 2014 received royal assent in March. It means a number of significant changes to the rights of children and families will now come into force over the coming months, which are likely to affect people consulting family solicitors in Suffolk and nationwide.

The main focus of the changes is on supporting and improving family life. One important aim is to reduce delays in the legal system, and so avoid parents and children being left in an unsettling limbo for long periods.

As expert family solicitors, Suffolk-based Barker Gotelee can guide you through the whole legal process if a marriage or civil partnership is coming to an end, including arrangements for children. We can also help with a range of other matters affecting children such as school appeals. Here we look at some of the major changes in the Children and Family Act and what this new legislation means for you.

Changes to Family Justice

Family breakdown is one area being addressed by the new law. For any party considering making a court application it is now a legal requirement for the party to attend an initial mediation and assessment meeting (MIAM). This will give them a chance to find out about all the alternative dispute resolution services available and whether one of these services can be used first, before taking the decision to go to court over child arrangements or a financial settlement. Going to court can make family break-up more distressing, especially for children, so, when choosing family solicitors locally in Suffolk, it is a good idea to look for a firm which takes a co-operative approach and can arrange mediation services.

As well as promoting mediation, the Act says courts will aim for both parents to continue to be involved in children’s lives – as long as this is in line with their safety and welfare. A 26-week time limit is also being introduced in care proceedings, to ensure decisions are made quickly and families do not face long periods of damaging uncertainty.

Workplace Rights and Childcare

Rights to request flexible working are being extended to all workers, not just parents of young children and some carers. The maternity leave system is also being changed to one of parental leave, with the right for parents to share paid time off after the birth of a baby. Partners will also have the right to take time off work to accompany pregnant women to ante-natal appointments, and there will be new statutory rights for paid adoption leave.

Another change which will be important for working parents is an overhaul of the childcare system, which aims to make more affordable childcare available. Child-minder agencies are being introduced and schools are being encouraged to offer extra care sessions.

Children with Special Educational Needs

The system of educational statements for young people with special needs and disabilities is being changed. In place of old-style statements, each child will have an Education, Health and Care Plan going up to the age of 25, with the aim being for all authorities involved to work more closely together. Families can also be offered personal budgets and direct payments to fund their child’s care.

About Barker Gotelee

As family solicitors based in Suffolk, Barker Gotelee already takes a collaborative approach and welcomes the focus on mediation in the new Act. The team can advise you on all aspects of family law, including separation and divorce. Based in Ipswich, Barker Gotelee serves clients in Martlesham and Woodbridge and across East Anglia.

Barker Gotelee Solicitors in East Anglia  – Contact the team for more information about the service available to you.

Nicola Furmston is a solicitor specialising in the family field at Barker Gotelee, Solicitors in Ipswich.