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March 2010 Changes for Children in Family Law

Changes for Children in Family Law

Anyone who experiences a family breakdown knows how distressing and upsetting it is for everyone involved and particularly the children.

If parents are not able to make arrangements for their children at this difficult time, the court may be asked by one or other of the parents to make an order.

The court can make a decision as to where the children will live (known as a residence order) and an order as to who they will see and when (known as a contact order).

Since 8 December 2008, the court will attach a warning notice to all contact orders. This notice warns parents what will happen if they do not comply with the terms of the order. A parent who does not obey the terms of a contact order can be made to do between 40 and 200 hours of unpaid work or to pay compensation to the other parent who has lost money when the contact has not taken place. For example, if a parent had to cancel a booked holiday and lost money because the other parent did not allow the contact to take place.

Other recent changes in the law (2010) allow the court to order parents to take part in certain types of activity so that children will experience safe contact with their families. These activities are:

1. Mediation Assessment Meetings.
The court can refer parents to a family mediator to work out whether mediation will help them to find a safe arrangement for their children. Mediation in many cases can reduce conflict and is less expensive than court proceedings. Parents are encouraged by an independent mediator to try and reach a suitable arrangement for their children together. If mediation appears suitable the parents will progress from their Mediation Assessment Meeting to mediation sessions before reporting back to the court whether an agreement has been reached.

2. Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme.
If the court has found on the facts that there has been domestic violence or if a parent has admitted committing domestic violence the person considered violent can be required to go through a Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme. This is a government approved programme of over 60 hours which may be spread out over a period of time.

3. Parenting Information Programme.
Both parents can be ordered to take part in a programme where they will attend separately a course of one or two sessions of two hours each. The aim of the course is to help parents to understand the effect of splitting up and the effect of conflict on children so they can change things for the better. Parents will be better able to manage their difficult situation and develop better communication skills to reduce conflict and work together for the benefit of their children.

Jane Staff
March 2010

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