Far-reaching reforms of the family justice system in England and Wales come into force today (Tuesday 22nd April 2014) and their impact will be watched with interest by family lawyers in Scotland.
Included in a range of sweeping changes is a new requirement for divorcing couples to attend a mediation awareness session before bringing disputes about finance or children to court.
The operation of family law in Scotland has always been geared in such a way that court intervention is usually regarded as a last resort, with parties being encouraged to reach their own arrangements in relation to financial and child matters, whether by negotiation or through alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, arbitration or collaborative law.
Where court intervention is required, there are already specialist family courts in place at some major sheriff courts and the Court of Session.
A judge in Scotland has the power to refer a difficult child dispute case to a family law mediator at any stage in the court action.
Of most interest may, therefore, be the operation of a new presumption in relation to child cases. The court will now presume, unless it is shown to the contrary, that involvement of a parent in a child's life will promote the child's welfare.
While most judges would be expected to start from the basis that involvement of both parents is desirable, this change in the legal onus does mark an important shift away from the notion that sometimes remains, whereby the non resident parent, usually the father, can feel they need to justify why their involvement in their children's lives will be beneficial.
At the same time in England the notion of residence and contact in relation to children is abolished, with the argument being that such terminology places the parents at the heart of the dispute. Instead, courts will now make a child arrangement order rather than residence and contact orders.
It is now nearly 20 years since the concept of custody and access of children was removed in Scotland, but this language still prevails in the minds of many people embroiled in disputes about the appropriate arrangements for children.
As with any reform in the family justice system, changes to the legal jargon and court system can only achieve so much. For all involved in the system the challenge remains in orchestrating a cultural shift away from the familiar image of divorce as a blood sport to be won or lost.