The Children and Families Act 2014 was passed by parliament on 13th March 2014. Most of this Act involves adoption, and Local Authorities responsibilities to children. However, it has once again changed terminology in private children proceedings.
As a solicitor, I used to find it really frustrating that the words “access” and “custody” were still being used, despite the fact that the Children Act 1989 introduced the terms “contact” and “residence” to replace them. We are about to undergo another change. This is that contact, residence, access and custody are being done away with, and are being replaced with Child Arrangement Orders. The Court will have power to make Child Arrangement Orders when determining where a child should live, and who they should spend quality time with.
But is it all just a play on words? I remember meeting with a very experienced family mediator, and she said that she was going to replace the words “access” and “contact” with “quality time”. Initially I thought that this was just another play on words, but then I realised that she was subconsciously trying to get across to parents in dispute that this time was something good, not something to be feared, resented or hated. It was for the parent to have some good time with the child/children. I do applaud this suggestion.
However “Child Arrangement Order” does sound very clinical to me. It reminds me of making an appointment for my children to see the dentist, or having to go to the Doctors. It doesn’t sound like two parents co-operating to help their child have a future with certainty. In addition, if it’s been over 25 years since the Children Act came into force, and the terminology from previous law is still around, how long is it going to take before we start talking about Child Arrangement orders? It doesn’t exactly slip off the tongue!
The one really big change for family law is that there is now a presumption that involvement of a parent in a child’s life will further their interests, unless the contrary is shown. In my experience this is very much the starting point of a court in any event, so it will be interesting to see how much difference this actually makes in practice – watch this space!