The Queen has announced that changes will be made to legislation surrounding family law. An entirely new Children and Families Bill was announced during the Queen’s Speech at the state opening of Parliament. The new bill will see implemented changes including the allowance of parental leave to be shared between parents, making the interracial adoption legal process easier, providing greater choices of schools for pupils with special educational needs and also improving access for fathers to their children in the instance of divorce.
The announcement of the bill reinforces plans made by Ministers to introduce more flexible parental leave after an independent report was published in May last year. The report recommended that rights be extended to request flexible working hours if parents have a child of 16 years of age or less. The changes to the rules surrounding adoption will prevent the local authorities from delaying an the completion of an adoption in order to find a perfect match for a child if there are suitable adopters already available. The ethnicity of a child and its prospective adopters will now come second in the majority of cases with a view to speed up the process of placing a child in a permanent home. The government also plans for the introduction of a number of recommendations which are contained in the final report of the Family Justice Review published towards the end of last year. Families will be able to initiate compensation claim cases where the rules are not adhered to.
Some of the key points included in the review are the following. The creation of a six month time-limit by which care cases must be completed. It also makes legislation explicit that case management decisions must be made only after the full impact on the child and his or her needs have been taken into full consideration. Any processes deemed unnecessary will be removed by getting rid of the requirements of care and supervision orders to see monthly renewal by the judge working on a case. Instead, just one order will be issued for the estimated length of time it will take to finalise the legal proceedings. Legal advisers will now be able to process uncontested divorce applications much quicker to further streamline the process of finalising care cases.
The adjustments being made to family law are being met with mixed opinions from family law specialist solicitors. Some solicitors state that too much weight has been put on the interest of the child, taking away from the interests of the parent’s control over how they raise a child in the wake of a divorce. Others argue the opposite, that not enough steps have been taken to allow for the best interests of the child. However, it is generally agreed that the changes have done well in the maximising chances of maintaining a relationship between both parents following divorce cases.