Taking the step into Child Arrangements ApplicationsSarah Longley
When parties separate or decide to divorce from each other, often their next concern is regarding contact with the children of the relationship. In an ideal world, people are able to agree those arrangements amicably between themselves, but what happens if there is a dispute where one party wants to spend time with the children, but the other party doesn’t agree?
Depending on whether you are the parent seeking contact, or the parent wishing to limit contact, you need to know what your options are, and if guidance is sought from the Court, what any decisions made are based on. The first step would usually be to seek legal advice to discuss any issues and reasons for concern.
Consideration needs to be given to whether the party wishing to have contact with the child holds parental responsibility. Parental responsibility means ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’ [Children Act 1989]. A child’s mother automatically has parental responsibility and does not lose it if she and the child’s father separate, whether or not they were married. A father who is married to, or the civil partner of the child’s mother when the child is born will automatically have parental responsibility. Fathers of children who are not married to, or the civil partner of, the child’s mother will have parental responsibility if they are named on the birth certificate of the child (post-December 2003).
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
Once parental responsibility has been established, in the event one party wishes contact with a child, or wishes to restrict the other from having contact with a child, then they may wish to make an application to Court for a Child Arrangements Order. This is an Order which regulates arrangements for a child relating to issues such as with whom the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with, or when the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with the other party.
Before any application can be made to Court you are required to attend a meeting with a mediator to determine whether mediation may be a suitable way for you to resolve your dispute, rather than using the Court. If the parties are willing and able to mediate, this may assist them in coming to an agreement in relation to how contact arrangements are put in place. It is accepted however that mediation is not suitable in all cases, and there are certain exemptions which apply depending on the circumstances.
After an application to Court is made, the case is referred to CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) whose role is to provide the Court with information so that a safe decision can be made about the child/children and the arrangements with either party. CAFCASS conduct safeguarding checks into all concerned individuals and also make enquiries of other authorities for instance Social Services to determine whether there has been any prior involvement with the family. CAFCASS also speak to both parties to ascertain views and listen to any safeguarding concerns. Their role is then to provide the Court with a safeguarding letter setting out their initial recommendations in advance of the case being listed for a hearing.
At present, the majority of hearings are being dealt with by way of remote Telephone Hearings so as to ensure access to the judiciary during the current pandemic. The first hearing is called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment and CAFCASS will usually be present at this hearing to provide any assistance to the Court, and also to deal with any outstanding safeguarding checks if applicable. Depending on recommendations and whether any safeguarding concerns have been identified, the Court will need to determine the next steps. If there are no child protection safeguarding concerns highlighted, then CAFCASS and the Court will try and assist the parties to reach an agreement.
If however CAFCASS have identified safeguarding concerns and made recommendations for further investigations to be undertaken, then the Court will consider and direct those, making arrangements for the case to return to the Court at a later date once those steps have been taken. These may include CAFCASS being required to produce a more detailed report called a Section 7 Report, or any other directions depending on the circumstances. Ultimately the Court will hold a Final Hearing with the Judge/Magistrates hearing evidence from adults involved, CAFCASS and any other expert necessary before making a decision.
Your Family Law specialist will be able to provide help and guidance from the beginning when you raise your concerns, through to the ultimate conclusion of the case whether that is by way of discussions direct with the other party, or through the Court process.
Our Family Law team have a vast amount of experience in guiding clients through the process of a Child Arrangement Order application. If communications have broken down and arrangements cannot be made amicably, call today to discuss how we can help on 01782 956123.