DNA test powers for family courts

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Published: Tuesday 17th February 2015 by The News Editor

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All family court judges in England will be able to order DNA tests to determine a child’s parentage from September, Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced.

The move follows two pilot schemes in Taunton and Bristol which were set up following anecdotal evidence that courtroom arguments led to delays in divorce cases, particularly where parentage was in question.

Findings from the pilots suggest the tests mean judges could be more confident when making decisions about children and, most importantly, parents would be more likely to follow the court’s orders.

Mr Hughes said: “I am determined that all cases involving children should be resolved quickly and wherever possible outside court.

“However when they do come to court they should be resolved in a civilised way so that children don’t suffer. Unambiguous and conclusive DNA tests will prove parentage and help to end acrimonious and embarrassing court battles.”

Funding of between £500,000 and £1 million a year will come from the budget of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).

The pilot schemes also explored ways of funding alcohol and drug tests to establish parents’ suitability to look after children but t he results were inconclusive, so Cafcass is to look at the issue further.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said funding for DNA testing in private family law cases followed the introduction last year of the biggest reforms to the family justice system for a generation.

These have placed children at the heart of every case and have cut to 29 weeks the time which care cases are taking, he said.

Reforms have included t he introduction of the new Family Court in England and Wales with a simpler system and co mpulsory family mediation information meetings so separating couples must consider alternatives to harmful and stressful court battles when they are resolving financial matters and arrangements for child contact.

Liz Cowell, family lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “This will assist in those cases where mothers try to allege that the father has no right to contact because he is not the natural parent. The change will also assist in cases where paying parents try to dodge supporting their children with claims that they are not the biological father.

“We have experienced situations where we act for a mother and the father says he wants contact with his child, but he will not pay maintenance as he is not the father.”

Published: Tuesday 17th February 2015 by The News Editor

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