Government Ministers have missed another opportunity to nudge family justice processes closer to the 21st century, says a national family charity, following the publication of amended family court forms.
Paperwork for separating couples applying to family court has been amended this week to reflect changes to evidence requirements surrounding domestic violence. But National Family Mediation says that whilst the forms were being re-written, the Ministry of Justice could have taken the opportunity to make courtroom paperwork easier to understand, and processes simpler to navigate.
The charity’s CEO, Jane Robey, says “While the paperwork was being reformatted, why not bring the language used in them up to date? It’s in everybody’s interests to ensure people going through the family courts understand the processes. Shrouding them in arcane language leaves people feeling helpless. 
“Relationship breakdown is one of the biggest crisis points in anyone’s life, yet at this very time, our country’s courts are expecting people to interpret language that reads like something from the 19th century.
“The paperwork needs to go through a plain English rinse-cycle.
“The title of Form A1, for example, hardly encourages active layperson engagement: “Notice of [intention to proceed with] an application for a financial remedy (other than a financial order)”
“And on the first side alone of the 13 page form, phrases include
periodical payments order
secured periodical payments order
financial provision under section 27 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973/Part 9 of Schedule 5 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004
“And how many people will genuinely feel confident when faced by the question “Are you applying for an order by consent in the terms of a written agreement (a consent order)?”
“Feedback from mediation clients tells us that many people feel these forms can only fully be understood by someone with some legal background. It’s no wonder people who struggle to interpret them then head straight off to a solicitor, getting drawn into the trap of paying legal fees and snubbing the very family mediation pathways that government policy is supposed to drive separating couples towards. 
“These forms are long enough already, so including a glossary would be a useful first step.
“If separating families are to have access to justice, it’s vital the pathways they have to follow are made easier to navigate, and Ministers should take every opportunity available to simplify paperwork and processes. The January 2018 amendments represent a missed opportunity.
“The excellent digital work being developed by HM Courts and Tribunals Service recognises that access to justice is very much about making the legal processes people find themselves engaged with understandable. In this context a  simplified set of family court paperwork is not an unrealistic expectation.”
The Ministry of Justice amended family court forms  Form FM1, Form A, Form A1, Form B and Form C100 with effect from 8 January 2018.

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