Rogers & Norton News

Family Law Reforms: An Update

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Significant changes were introduced on the 22nd April 2014, as part of a major re-vamp of the family justice system.  The key changes are set out below.

Unified Court Structure

  • Prior to the 22nd April 2014 a case could be heard in the Family Proceedings Court, County Court or High Court depending on the nature of the application that was before the Court. There is now a single unified ‘Family Court’ to which all future applications must be made.  Once the application has been submitted the Court will decide before the hearing on the appropriate level of Judge to determine the case, whether that be a Magistrate, a District Judge or a Circuit Judge. 



  •  Any application will be rejected by the Court at the outset if you have not attended mediation, unless it is an emergency application.


Private Law Children Disputes

  • If your application concerns a private dispute regarding a child then the types of orders you can apply for have changed.  You will now apply for a ‘child arrangements order’, specific issue order or prohibited steps order.  The concepts of residence and contact have gone.  The focus being on placing parents on an equal footing.
  • A timetable for managing private law disputes loosely already adhered to has been implemented.  Your first hearing will take place within 4-6 weeks of your application being issued.  With 6 weeks being the very latest.
  • At your first hearing, referred to as a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) parties will be given an opportunity to be helped to understand the issues which divide them and to reach agreement.  The aim is on conciliation and identifying issues of dispute which need to be resolved.
  • Where no agreement is reached and case management directions need to be made then the court will need to include in the order; the issues which are agreed; the issues which remain to be resolved; steps planned to resolve the issues; any interim arrangements; timetables for any further hearings, statements of facts in relation to any identified risk to safety and if not identified steps to be taken to resolve them; attendance at a SPIP or parenting intervention; date and time of the next hearing; whether a section 7 welfare report is required; where both parties are Litigants in Person, the court may direct HMCTS to produce a litigant in person bundle.
  • Subsequent hearings will be referred to as Dispute Resolution Appointments and if not resolved, listed for a Final Hearing.
  • Enforcement of any child arrangements order will be listed as a priority within 20 days and concluded without delay.



In practice many Family Law Practitioners already adhere to these practices, with the focus being on how to resolve disputes.  The changes to the legal concepts of ‘residence’ and ‘contact’, with the parent subject to a contact order feeling somehow inferior are readily welcomed by the profession and will hopefully shift the balance of power to place parents on a more equal footing.


If you wish to discuss any aspect of this article or have any other query relating to Family Law please contact:

Kerry Rowell
01603 675666

 Kerry Rowell