I recently met with the lovely editor of this local page, Shelley, who was keen to ensure that the site was offering visitors some information about legal issues relevant to parents, grandparents and children.
So just a bit about me and my firm. I was born in Portsmouth and whilst I moved away to complete my degree, I returned, had my children and started my legal career here. I am divorced myself and have managed a shared residence arrangement for my own children for the past 9 years. So I have experienced both in my work and personal life, many issues facing parents these days. I have been a specialist family lawyer for 21 years and have conducted cases in most areas of family related work, including divorce, children disputes, domestic abuse, maintenance, financial separation, care proceedings, adoption and surrogacy.
My firm, Biscoes is a Portsmouth based firm, first opened in 1854, which now has offices in Waterlooville, Gosport, Wickham, Portchester and Petersfield. We have the strap line, ‘your local lawyers’ and we have deliberately tried to stay in the high street to offer local services to our clients.
For most people seeing a solicitor for advice about personal issues can be a little scary but I hope with this blog I can reassure you that solicitors can be approachable and most of us became lawyers because we wanted to help people.
So in this first contribution to Mumsnet I would like to tell you about some significant changes in the area of family legal world that may have an impact on you or someone you know.
Changes to public funding or ‘Legal Aid’
The first big change which still many people are not aware is that from 1 st April 2013, the Government withdrew public funding for the majority of family law cases. Unless there is an element of domestic violence, for which evidence must be provided, then you are no longer entitled to legal aid to assist you in divorce and financial matters, as well as private children act proceedings. There is still legal aid for care proceedings and to obtain injunctions.
Just last week The Guardian reported that the Judicial Executive Board, comprising the most senior judges in England and Wales, sent a written submission to MPs implying the Ministry of Justice’s cuts in legal aid are responsible for a big increase in unrepresented claimants, outbreaks of courtroom violence, additional litigation and increased costs!
April 2013 also saw the introduction of the requirement that before commencing proceedings, the courts expect the parties to have attempted mediation to see if an out-of-court settlement can be agreed. To achieve this, mediation or collaborative law can be used, which is intended to save time and money compared to issuing proceedings in court. In mediation, a neutral mediator will facilitate the discussion between you and will not side with either of you nor will he/she provide legal advice. Any settlement agreed is only binding once both parties have received independent legal advice and a consent order (agreed order) is sealed by the court. The mediator cannot prepare the court documents nor finalise the procedure.
Those who sadly experience domestic abuse or have an element of ‘child abuse’ or harm to a child in their case who meet the financial eligibility criteria can still qualify for funding and can be exempted from the requirement to mediate. We at Biscoes can let you have information about this or you can visit the Legal Aid Agency website.
The Children and Families Act 2014
The other big and very recent change is the coming into force of the Children and Families Act 2014, and the final switch to the Single Family Court on the 22nd April 2014 . The Act covers a wide range of areas relating to children and families, including plans to tackle delays in the adoption system, reforms relating to children and young people with special educational needs, changes to the system governing children and young people living in care homes or with foster parents, and new legislative arrangements relating to parental leave from employment which, amongst other things, is to be extended to adopters and parents going through surrogacy arrangements. In cases concerning taking children into care, there is a maximum 26-week time limit for completing the proceedings to speed up the process of deciding if children should be permanently removed from their families.
It is not usual practice for new Acts of Parliament to be launched with a short video, but the Department of Education has seen fit to do so, in a strange parody of the ‘My Look Back’ movie phenomenon that recently marked Facebook’s tenth anniversary.
It doesn’t however really tell you a great deal!! The video concentrates on what the government perceives to be the key measures that will make things better for children in care (‘public law’ as we family lawyers call it); But the bill also affects our clients (almost always ‘private law’, where the state is not involved).
I will look in more detail at some aspects of the Act and how it might affect you over the next few bogs.
Alison Lee will be posting a new blog every three weeks, make sure you sign up for email notifications (to the right of the page) so you don’t miss any.