A new Family Court to deal with divorce and child custody proceedings is to be introduced across England and Wales in a move that the president of the Family Division of the High Court says will provide a "revolution" in how family law affects children.
The court will replace the previous three-tier system as part of a "revolution" in family justice. Compulsory family mediation and time limits on court proceedings will also form part of a major shake-up in the family justice system.
Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court, said the scale of the changes could not be overstated.
"Today marks the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes," he said.
"Taken as a whole, these reforms amount to a revolution. There has been, indeed there had to be, a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution."
Ensuring safe & stable homes
Another significant change is a 26-week time limit on care proceedings aimed at protecting children. It follows the Family Justice Review in 2011, which found vulnerable and damaged children were having their "futures undermined". Care and supervision cases have taken an average of 56 weeks.
In announcing the changes, children & families minister Edward Timpson (pictured) said: "Every child deserves a safe and stable home - no matter what their background or starting point in life.
"The new 26-week time limit will reduce unnecessary delays by ensuring that judges focus on the facts without getting caught up in unnecessary evidence or bureaucracy.
"These reforms will mean a swifter system where children's best interests are placed - where they rightly should be - at the heart of decision making."
Keep families away from negative effects
Expert evidence will now be allowed only when necessary in family proceedings concerning children. Compulsory family mediation meetings for separating couples are also being introduced.
Family justice minister Simon Hughes added: "For too long children have suffered from excessive delays and confrontational court battles.
"Our reforms will keep families away from negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court they happen in the least damaging way."