In an ideal world, nobody would need Child Arrangements Orders. In fact, in the family courts, there is a ‘no order principle’ meaning that the court will not order arrangements for any child unless this becomes necessary. The family court would expect that parents can make their own arrangements for their children where it is safe and appropriate to do so.
There may be a variety of reasons why parents are not able to agree on the arrangements for their child. At Lockings our family solicitors know that relationship breakdowns are emotional and difficult. It may be that with the input and guidance of an experienced family solicitor, arrangements can be agreed with the other party without needing to attend a court. Referrals can be made for parents to attend mediation or other dispute resolution for example.
However, if negotiation and mediation fail, in some cases a court application becomes necessary. This can include cases where there are serious safeguarding concerns for your child which require expert guidance and input from the family court and the professionals working within it.
If an application is made to the court for a Child Arrangements Order, the first step is that a copy of your application will be sent to CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). CAFCASS undertake initial screening of all new court applications and will undertake background checks with the police and with Social Services of all parties to the case. An Officer of CAFCASS will also attempt to speak to you and the other party before the first court hearing. They will then produce a letter to the court with the outcome of their enquiries ahead of the first court appointment.
This initial screening process will assist the judge hearing your case for the first time, to know immediately whether there are any safeguarding concerns, or whether the court can go ahead to make orders in your case without further investigation. In many cases, the initial safeguarding checks narrow the areas of disagreement between the parties sufficiently to allow an agreement to be made at an early stage.
If the CAFCASS initial screening highlights safeguarding concerns for any child who is subject to a court application, then further investigation will be needed. This could include one or more of the following further investigations:
A full welfare report from CAFCASS or Social Services (a Section 7 report);
Reports or advice from other experts such as a medical expert;
Drug or alcohol testing for alleged substance misuse;
Paternity DNA testing.
If there are issues of domestic violence between the parties, the court may need to have a specific hearing to decide the truth of such allegations (a finding of fact hearing). This would involve the gathering of further evidence and preparation of statements in support of your case.
Ultimately, the role of the court is to make a determination as to the arrangements for children with the paramount concern being the welfare of the child at all times.
Once Child Arrangements Orders have been granted, it is expected to provide a resolution for both parties and the children concerned, if you are experiencing difficulty because an arrangements order is not being followed you would need to make an application for an Enforcement Order. However, the court will only grant an Enforcement Order if they are satisfied, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a Childs Arrangements order is not being followed.
Being a party to any court case can be a confusing and stressful time. Here at Lockings our team of experienced and compassionate family solicitors will be able to guide and represent you through this process, from providing you with initial advice, to helping you draft documents and representing you at court hearings.
We offer a free initial chat where we will explain the costs and timescales involved upfront so you always know what to expect. We will also discuss the availability of legal aid which may be available in your unique situation.
For confidential and friendly advice, contact our family law solicitors in Hull and Beverley for a free initial chat on 01482 300 200 today or send an e-mail enquiry to [email address] and we will contact you for a discussion as soon as possible.