Children, Court and Cafcass
In private law proceedings, Cafcass may be involved when parents who are separating cannot agree on arrangements for their children and ask a court to decide on matters for them. This post explains the role of Cafcass up until the first court hearing.
If you need advice, call our family law team on 01274 727373. We advise clients anywhere in England & Wales.
What is Cafcass?
Cafcass stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Usually, Cafcass officers are specialist social workers known as Family Court Advisers. They are independent of the courts, social services, the judge hearing the court proceedings, education or health authorities.
When Do Cafcass Get Involved?
Cafcass get involved if you and your partner make a children’s application because you are unable to reach an agreement about looking after your children. You can usually avoid going to court if you can agree on:
- where the children will live
- how much time they’ll spend with each parent
- how you’ll financially support your children
If you are unable to reach an agreement between yourselves, you can explore mediation, negotiation or collaborative law. If these options do not work, you can ask the court to decide on these issues for you. If court is your only option, you must attend mediation first (known as a mediation information assessment meeting or MIAM for short).
As part of your children’s court application, the court will send your information to Cafcass. If you need to know your options, book your free 15 minute consultation with SKB Law today.
Different Court Orders
Depending on your situation and your legal advice, you could apply for:
- Child Arrangements Order decide who has responsibility for the care of your child. The court will decide where your child lives, who they live with, and when and how they will see each parent (the type of contact e.g. phone call). This order is sometimes known as a child custody order or child contact order.
- Specific Issue Order is about your child’s upbringing and asks the court to consider a specific question such as, changing the child’s name, where they go to school, or religious education.
- Prohibited Steps Order means a parent must have the court’s permission before doing something, such as, asking for the court’s permission before taking the children abroad.
What is the role of Cafcass?
The role of Cafcass is to give advice to the court to protect and promote the best interests of the child. Remember, they are independent of the court. In general, their role is to:
- safeguard and promote the welfare of children
- give advice to the court about any application
- make provision for the children to be represented in the case if necessary
What will they do?
They carry out initial safeguarding checks and prepare a safeguarding letter for the court; and if asked by the court, Cafcass will prepare a report on your child with recommendations about what arrangements.
Cafcass Checks and the Safeguarding Letter
Every application for a child arrangements order is sent to Cafcass. The first thing they do is safeguarding checks to find out if your child is safe. Some of the background and safeguarding checks made by Cafcass may involve:
- Reviewing Your Application: to check if any concerns are raised about your child’s safety, such as domestic violence or child abuse.
- Police Checks: they will check whether either parent or relevant third party has any criminal convictions. Depending on the offence, a criminal conviction may not create safeguarding issue. For example, a domestic violence leading to an assault conviction would raise a safeguarding issue, however it may not stop the parent from getting the court order they want.
- Welfare Concerns: contact your Local Authority and social services to check whether there are any historical or current welfare concerns. For example, if a child is on a child protection register or school attendance issues.
- Speaking with Parents: a phone conversation with each parent to find out if you have any concerns about the safety or welfare of your child. In general, Cafcass officers will consider contact between the child and both parents is in the child’s best interests. If you are objecting to contact by the other parent, you will need to have a good reason. You may find it helpful to take legal advice.
A few days before your first court hearing, Cafcass will send their safeguarding letter to the the court highlighting any safeguarding issues.
What weight will the safeguarding letter have in my case?
There is no obligation for the court to follow the recommendations in the Cafcass safeguarding letter. But, the court will generally place a great deal of weight on the letter. It can influence which orders and reports the court requests at the first court hearing.
What Happens During Your First Court Hearing?
The first court hearing is known as the FHDRA (First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment). It is usually an informal meeting to decide what the issues are in your case and discuss what information or reports are needed. A Cafcass officer is usually present at this hearing.
The court will try to help you and the other parent to agree a positive, joint approach to looking after your children. Their aim is to put your children’s best interests first. Remember, this might be different from what you want.
During the hearing, if a Cafcass officer has raised specific safeguarding or welfare concerns, the court may order a more detailed report about your child’s welfare before the next hearing. This report is known as a section 7 report.
Find Out Your Options
We hope you’ve found this post helpful. SKB Law is a specialist family law firm. If you have a question or want to know your options, book your free 15 minute consultation with our team on 01274 727373.