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After a long passage through parliament, today, 13 March 2014, the Children and Families Bill received the Royal Assent, hence becoming law.

Amongst it’s many provisions, it provides that parties wanting to go to court over disagreements concerning arrangements for their children and finances, MUST first obtain information about family mediation. This will usually involve attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMS) with a qualified family mediator. In some limited cases, such as certain types of domestic violence, there will be an exemption from this requirement otherwise it will now be compulsory. The start date is to be 22 April 2014.

If the matter does go to court the court must have regard to the principle that both parents should be involved in their children’s lives, where it is safe to do so.

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A recent YouGov poll disclosed that 58% of separated parents they surveyed do not believe in the idea of a ‘good separation’. 52% said that their separation had had a negative impact on their children.

In family mediation, where the separating couple have children, the needs of the children are at the centre of the process. How you deal with your separation has an important effect on your children. So, if you want good outcomes for your children, do your best to have a good separation.

Do not be afraid to ask for help and look for information. Relate have launched a service, Being Parents Apart where you can find lots of information and signposting to places that can help.

Another good source for information and signposting is the government’s site called Help On Breaking Up. This gives information to help you support your children and deals with most other areas where help is needed including housing, welfare and legal issues.

Communication is central . Family Mediation helps separating couples improve their communication leading to better outcomes for all concerned.

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Mediation clients often say that they have come to mediation to avoid having to use lawyers, who they fear will make relations with the other party worse and will involve high fees.

A sensible use of lawyers in the mediation process can in fact help the mediation to succeed. This usually involves consulting lawyers on particular questions rather than employing them to do everything. That way the mediation client retains control and is able to clarify matters that need to be discussed in the mediation meetings. Lawyers can give useful general advice on how courts approach matters such as issues concerning finances and arrangements for children. They can also provide advice on complicated matters such as options when discussing pensions.

Lawyers are useful at the final stage of the mediation process , when a set of draft proposals have been agreed, to give advice on those terms. Until there is a court order any proposals reached in mediation are not legally binding. This encourages mediation clients to be more relaxed about discussing and disclosing matters which gives both parties more options and a better chance of finding solutions acceptable to both of them.

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Sometimes mediation is either unsuitable or one party is unwilling to consider even attending a mediation information and assessment of suitability meeting with a trained mediator.

In these circumstances the willing parent usually wants guidance on what to do next. That parent will often want to take the matter to court for a decision on the arrangements for seeing their children. In that case these links are often helpful for them:

Application form for a contact order: http://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk/courtfinder/forms/c100-eng.pdf

Court form CB1: Making an application – children and the family courts: http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/uploads/attachments/0000/2078/CB1_1108.pdf

Form Ex50 for court fees and Ex160A for fee remission : http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/fees

The applying parent will also need a form FM1 from the mediator to produce to the court.

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If you like to get your information from videos, the Ministry of Justice has launched a family mediation video on how mediation can help separating or divorcing couples sort out their finances and arrangements for their children ( family mediation video ).

Lots more information in video and other forms, with lots of useful links to where you can find help, can be found on Sorting out Separation including children and parenting,health,housing,legal,money and finances,relationships and conflict and work and benefits. When you reach the page, use the slider to the right of the page to scroll down to find all these sub-categories at the foot of the page.

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In England and Wales there is only one ground for divorce: that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Unfortunately the system is based on fault, that is, having to make an allegation against the other party to the marriage.

This one ground for divorce can only be proved in one of 5 ways: for an immediate divorce either that the other party has committed adultery or has behaved unreasonably. The other facts that can be used are desertion for 2 years (not often used), 2 years separation and the other party’s consent or 5 years separation.

The divorce procedure is started by filing out a form called a divorce petition which is sent to the court with the court fee, marriage certificate and, if there are children, a form called a statement of arrangements for the children. A copy is then posted to the other party who has to fill in and return to the court a short questionnaire called an acknowledgement of service which the court then copies to the petitioning party. The latter then has to swear an affidavit saying that the petition is true and then asks the court to progress matters. If happy with the paperwork the court arranges a date for pronouncement of the decree nisi and at the earliest, 6 weeks later, the petitioner can apply for the decree absolute which is the document which formally ends the marriage in law.

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Some other court fees connected with divorce have also increased. To defend a divorce petition, called an Answer, costs £255. To obtain the final document which legally finishes the marriage, called a decree absolute, costs £45.

If financial arrangements are agreed, to obtain an agreed order, called a consent order, costs £45.

Depending on your financial position you might be able to get these fees reduced in whole or in part. This leaflet explains how the system works: (Form EX160A).

For example, if you are on income support you will have nothing to pay.

If you have no children and your total income from all sources before deductions is £13,000, you will have nothing to pay. Above certain income levels there is a sliding scale.

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The media seem to have been telling us that modern fathers now play a large part in sharing the time it takes to care for their children. But is it true? Are fathers playing equal time in looking after their children?

In his new book, Gideon Burrows, who does share equal care of his children, has spent some time thinking about and researching the answer to this question. He has published his findings in a book called Men Can Do It! His answer to the question is that men are playing more of a role in the upbringing of their children but nothing like as much as we are led to believe is the case. He says, amongst other things, just look at the school gates for example and judge for yourself how many dads are waiting outside school to collect their children or attending at children’s playgroups.
We are told that over the last 10 years the number of stay at home dads has increased by only 6,000 and in the same period the number of stay at home mums has decreased by some 44,000. So who is then looking after the children? Well, it seems that it is the grandparents and other carers who are helping out.
Gideon also goes on to give other interesting statistics such as to tell us that it seems that where dads are stay at home and the mother working she does more of the domestic chores than a working dad would do in a similar situation.
Gideon, not surprisingly, doubts whether the coalition government’s reforms in this area, from 2015 introducing men’s rights to share up to 12 months paid parental leave , will actually be taken up by dads especially as the increase in the right to share parental leave since 2011 has had very little take up by dads.

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Following completion of its public consultation on its response to the Family Justice Review, the Government has published its plans on shared parenting, which are contained in the Children and Families Bill 2013. This includes a clause, amending the Children Act 1989, so that a court will have to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of both parents in the life of the child will be in the interests of the child, provided that that involvement does not put the child at risk of suffering harm.

The Government have made clear that this change has been worded specifically to avoid any implication that the presumption of shared parenting means equal time. It has made clear that the welfare of the child will still be the most important consideration.

The Government wants couples to be encouraged to resolve their disputes without the need for going to court. To that end family mediation is supported and more funds are being put into promoting and supporting mediation, although at the same time the Government have abolished legal aid for most family disputes concerning money and children but legal aid is still available for family mediation.

However, where the parents are not able to resolve their differences and the court is involved, the Government believe that this presumption of shared parenting will help to improve the court system by giving more confidence to both parents that the court will consider that the involvement of both parents in the lives of their children after separation is of benefit to the children.

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The Ministry of Justice has published divorce hot spots in order to urge couples to use divorce mediation to ease the dispute rather than fighting it out in court.

Legal Aid will stop for most family matters after March 2013 but will remain for divorce mediation. The Government will be putting more money into supporting mediation and have said they want to make it compulsory for separating couples to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) before starting court actions concerning children and finances.

Family Justice minister Lord McNally said: “All too often I hear stories of families going through expensive and traumatic court hearings, but we know that when working out how to split assets and arrange time with the children, mediation is a far simpler and cheaper approach for everyone and leads to better outcomes.”

Outside of Greater London, in the period Oct 2011 – Sept 2012, Birmingham came first with 2799 divorce petitions whilst Weston-super-Mare came second with 2447 divorce petitions whilst. Then came:

Leicester: 1,831
Romford: 1,783
Coventry: 1,776
Norwich: 1,775
Bristol: 1,705
Croydon: 1,672
Nottingham: 1,611
Chelmsford: 1,567
However, Weston-super-Mare soon challenged their top spot when it emerged that an online divorce company were starting its divorce petitions in Weston as the Ministry had told them it had more capacity than other busier courts.