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Children - Court Procedure

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The Court procedure if you apply for a Child Arrangements Order, Parental Responsibility Order, Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order varies a bit from locality to locality depending on resources.

Typically though if you make an application to the Court for one of these Orders then either before or at the first hearing both parents are invited to attend a short meeting with a CAFCASS officer (Children and Families Court Advisory Service, a probation worker or children’s guardian who is experienced in dealing with children disputes) to see if there are any areas of agreement.

From 22nd April 2014, before you can apply to Court in relation to arrangements for children, the Applicant will first of all be required to attend a mediation and information assessment meeting (MIAMS). If mediation is unsuitable and/or there is an unwillingness of one or both parties then an application to Court can be made.

On application to Court, your case will be allocated by a Gatekeeping Judge either to the Magistrates or County Court depending on the circumstances of the case. The CAFCASS officer will liaise with the Duty Court Family Mediator to discuss the possibility of the parties entering into mediation in order to resolve the matters in dispute. If there are any welfare concerns then it is likely that the CAFCASS officer will continue to be involved in the case.

At the first hearing, the District Judge or Magistrates will ask if there is any agreement and identify the issues in dispute such as where the child will live and how much time he/she will spend with the other parents. A CAFCASS officer will sometimes be present during the hearing. The hearing is usually quite short, and more often than not the parents do not speak to the District Judge/Magistrates. At that hearing the Judge will also ascertain whether or not the parties are able to mediate on the matters. If the other party to the application (“the Respondent”) was unwilling to attend a MIAMS appointment pre – issue then the Judge/Magistrates may direct that they now attend such an appointment. The Judge/Magistrates will also check whether any exemption claimed as a reason for not attending any MIAMS appointment pre-issue is actually valid. If they are not satisfied that it is then again your case may be referred back to mediation.

If there is no agreement, the District Judge may ask CAFCASS to prepare a detailed report. This can take anything between 12 and 16 weeks, and because of this delay, it is not uncommon to try and come to some sort of “interim” agreement.

CAFCASS will interview both parents, speak to school, may observe contact and may speak to extended family members before reporting back to the Court in writing. Depending upon the ages of your children the CAFCASS officer may speak to them alone. Both parents see a copy of the CAFCASS report which will recommend a course of action to the Court.

There will be a further short Court hearing. Many cases end at this point when both parents have read the CAFCASS recommendation, or something is tried out for a while, and then reviewed. Final Orders are not necessarily made by the Court.

If a parent will not agree to follow the recommendation of a CAFCASS officer a final hearing takes place when the Court hears evidence from the parents and witnesses and makes an Order.

At either stage of the Court process, the Court will actively consider whether or not the matters in relation to children can be resolved within the mediation process as opposed to ongoing Court proceedings. This will be an on-going duty of the Court throughout the proceedings.