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What to expect in Child Court Proceedings

PLEASE NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS OVER 1 MONTH OLD

When parents are in dispute over children matters it is inevitably a very distressing time for them, not helped by the need to deal with a Court process which is often alien to them.

Every matter is different as every family is different.

There are multiple orders that can be applied for, some at the same time and parents may choose to make these types of applications for a number of different reasons.

Applications are made under the Children Act by way of a C100 form, which details the nature of the application and what orders you are seeking and why.

An application can only be made once parents have attempted to attend mediation and will need to have a Mediation Information and Attendance Meeting Form signed by a mediator to attach to the application. This is because it is always hoped that parents can resolve matters without the intervention of the Court.  Sadly, some parents are simply not able to reach an agreement without the assistance of the Family Court.

There are times when an applicant may be exempt from attending a Mediation Information and Attendance Meeting, usually by evidencing that they are a victim of domestic abuse.  There is a limited list of possible evidence that the Court will accept in order to allow the exemption to be claimed.

Where a party has been a victim of domestic abuse, they may also wish complete a Form C1A, detailing the relevant incidents and allegations as it may mean the Court will have  safeguarding concerns for the child.

Once the application has been lodged and issued with the Court, CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services) will be asked to carry out necessary safeguarding checks and make initial recommendations to the Court by way of letter.

In addition, papers will be served on the other person (who is known as the Respondent), and the Court will confirm a date for a Gatekeeping appointment.

A Gatekeeping Appointment is a time listed purely with the Court, where a Court legal advisor will consider the application in private, without the attendance of the parties and decide what the next steps should be before making the necessary Directions Order.

That Order will be sent to both parties and will list the matter for a FHDRA (First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment). Should there be any alcohol or drug abuse, then the Court may make an order for testing to be carried out, although they may first want to check how the parties will fund this as there are additional fees for obtaining police disclosure, drug and/or alcohol testing and any other expert that may need to be instructed.

If  the dispute between the parties is not straightforward and there are issues regarding the safety of the child or children, then the court will order CAFCASS to prepare a Section 7  report.  This involves them meeting both parents  and also speaking to the child, often at school where the child is  old enough to be at school.  The recommendations of the CAFCASS officer are likely to be followed by the courts in most cases.

The case will continue until the Court is satisfied that all necessary checks and disclosure has been obtained to enable them to make the correct decision on what is best for the child. The Court will aim to conclude matters as swiftly as possible, however, there can be lengthy waiting periods between hearings due to the Court’s capacity. The Court want children to be part of the proceedings for as little time as possible because of the negative impact on a child of being exposed to parent conflict.

By the time the matter is before the court, the relationship between the parents has already broken down and there is a great deal of conflict and numerous allegations are being or have been made.

Unfortunately parents do not always put the best interests of the children first and end up focusing more on allegations against each other, which often leads to the issue of parent alienation arising. This is where a parent puts negative thoughts about the other parent into a child’s head. Parents should remember that the Court may criticize them for this as it is important for children to have a loving view of both parents. This provides them with stability and means the child will be less likely to have behavioural issues growing up.

Where allegations of domestic abuse are made, and the truth needs to be established, then proceedings may well take considerable time. There are a number of documents that would need to be prepared for a Finding of Fact hearing at which the Court establishes which allegations are true before CAFCASS prepare the Section 7 report.

Do I have to attend Court?

As the applicant in an application, the Court would expect you to attend Court for the hearing unless there are exceptional circumstances which make is impossible for you to do so. If you are anxious about seeing the other parent at Court, we can ask that the Court arrange separate entrances to the Court building and waiting areas.

It should also be noted if you fail to attend either in person or by way of a solicitor on an application that you have made, then that application is likely to be dismissed and if you fail to attend where an application has been made against you, Orders can be made in your absence.

What do I need to prepare for Court?

As family lawyers, we use our expertise and legal knowledge to prepare the Court application and any other documents ordered by the Court to make what can be a very distressing process a little easier for you. It is important that you provide us with any information you feel is relevant so that we can get the best picture of what it is you want the Court to do and obtain the best possible outcome for you and your child. We keep you fully informed throughout the process.

What should I do if the other parent is not sticking to the Order made?

It happens that despite the intervention of the Court and an Order being made, a parent fails to comply with the terms of the Order.   Although there is no criminal offence attached to the breaching of an Order under the Child Arrangements Act 1989, parties can be criticised by the Court and applications can be made to enforce an Order and penalties can be imposed

On the other hand, there are cases where a parent repeatedly makes unnecessary Court applications and uses those applications to harass the other party and cause difficulties with contact. The Court also has the power to deal with these and ensure that the harassment stops.

Should you feel you have no alternative but to turn to the Court for help, get in touch with us today where one of our knowledgeable lawyers can advise you and assist you in obtaining a peaceful and clear routine for you and your child.  Andrew Isaacs Law are here to make the process easier for you.

If you require our assistance, please call 01302 349480 or email family@andrewisaccs.co.uk.

Francesca Mears – Family Lawyer

06.04.22

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