5 FAQs – Children Disputes part 2
July 6, 2013
This is the second post of my summer series of frequently asked questions. I have devised the questions that I think, from experience, most people will want to know when going through the court system in children’s disputes. Please feel free to comment below or suggest helpful tips that could benefit others. Or to suggest a FAQ you would like me to answer in a future post.
1. What is Cafcass?
Cafcass is an abbreviation for the Court and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (previously called the Court Welfare Officer). The role of Cafcass in children proceedings is to safeguard the welfare of the children. I like to express it as Cafcass effectively standing in as the child. Cafcass will make recommendations to the court as to how they think the dispute should be settled. The court places a lot of weight on the recommendations of the Cafcass Officer as s/he is qualified in this area and is often the only independent voice that the judge in the case has. They have a very useful website here.
However, I think it is only fair to say that Cafcass as an organisation is very stretch, particularly in terms of time. They on occasion have a very limited time that they can actually engage with the parents (and other significant adults) in a dispute. So once you have put in an application, expect a telephone call from Cafcass and have some questions, comments or observations to hand that you would like to discuss with the Cafcass Officer – it may be the only chance you get to talk to them before the first hearing.
2. How long will a court case take in children disputes?
This is an extremely difficult question. Some people experience a quick resolution of their case once it is in court. However, very many people speak of spending years in court trying to reach a conclusion to the dispute. In order to minimise the length of the court proceedings, it is advisable to have a clear idea of the result you want to achieve and a solid plan of how you intend to use the courts to achieve it.
3. Should I apply for a Contact Order or a Residence Order?
In many cases both parents have been actively involved in the care of the children before separating. Typically, on separating the father moves out leaving the mother with the children. It is best to use this “re-shuffling” period to establish how you are both going to parent the children in the future. In other words, “don’t let the dust settle”. Ordinarily, the law states that it is better if the court does not have to make an Order about a child. However, the non resident parent may encounter obstacles from the resident parent in establishing a quality relationship with the children. In this case, I would suggest that strong consideration be given to applying for a shared residence order. Shared residence orders can also serve to focus the resident parent’s mind that both parents are equal in their role as a parent.
4. I finally got a court date to get contact with my child. I went but nothing happened and I still can’t see my child!
This is a common feeling. Many feel the same way. One obvious issue with children’s proceedings is that it can be an extremely slow process as every issue in dispute has to be dealt with fully. So even before making an application you should have a good understanding of the law, of the case law involved and a solid case plan. Particularly, if an agreement can’t be reached due to allegations against you of any nature, you should consider pushing for a contested hearing (ie a short trial) at the earliest opportunity. In other words, be mindful of the proceedings just becoming a series of “return dates” and directions hearings. Otherwise, there is a big risk of you not seeing your child for many months and even years, in extreme cases with no court Order being made either way.
5. Do I have to have a Solicitor to go to court to get contact with my child?
No, you are perfectly entitled to represent yourself. However, I would strongly recommend that you instruct a Solicitor to represent you – especially if there are allegations against you of domestic violence. For non resident parents, I would suggest you bear in mind three things when instructing a Solicitor: 1) that the Solicitor has a view on the role of both parents following separation 2) that the Solicitor specialises in this area of law 3) that the Solicitor is mindful of the amount of money you have available to spend on the proceedings from the outset and is able to produce a case plan to achieve your goals within this budget.
I wish you all the best…
Look out for further blog posts of Frequently Asked Questions every Friday, or feel free to Get in Touch for a consultation or with a FAQ suggestion that I can answer in the next blog post.
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Rachel Toussaint is a Consultant solicitor at Toussaints Solicitors, Birmingham UK. She specialises in family law and family immigration. She is an advocate for shared parenting and campaigns to promote parents rights. In her blog she shares legal tips for parents to quickly and effectively resolve their legal disputes. She can be contacted for advice, networking or speaking on 0121 523 5050. http://www.racheltoussaint.wordpress.com
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