If you and your former partner are unable to resolve issues concerning your children, then you can make an application to Court for a Child Arrangement Order. However, before making such an application you should try and resolve issues through mediation.
Mediation is a meeting between you and your former partner and an independent third party who is trained in both the legal procedure of a breakdown in a relationship and in negotiations. Whilst these meetings normally take place on a face to face basis, they are currently being conducted remotely such as on Zoom.
If the matter has to proceed to Court, there are various orders a Court can make. The most common is a Child Arrangement Order which sets out the arrangements to be made as to the person with whom a child is to live (formerly known as a Residence Order) and the time the child shall spend with the absent parent (formerly known as a Contact Order).
In deciding whether an order should be made, the Court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the child. The Court must have regard to the Welfare Checklist which includes the wishes and feelings of the child, the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs, the likely effect on the child of any change, the child’s age, sex and background, any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering, how capable each of the child’s parents is in meeting the child’s needs together with a range of other powers that are available to the Courts.
If an application to Court does become necessary, then Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) Officer will become involved and will act as the eyes and ears of the Courts. They will initially speak with you and your former partner and prepare a letter and you will receive this letter before the first Court appointment. The Cafcass Officer will also undertake safeguarding checks in relation to you and your former partner. They will generally also make recommendations in the letter. This has always been done by telephone and the current pandemic will not disrupt this process.
At the first Court hearing which is currently taking place by telephone or video, due to the pandemic, the Judge will consider the application made and the letter produced by Cafcass and if matters can be agreed then an order can be made. However, if issues remain in dispute the Court can direct that Cafcass prepare a full report which will take many weeks. This further report will mean further meetings with Cafcass which may be conducted in person where necessary and safe to do so, or by telephone.
After receiving the report, which will contain recommendations, if the matter cannot be agreed, then the matter will be listed for a final hearing where the Judge will make the final decision. This hearing is likely to be held in the court building as even during the pandemic, Judges recognise that it is extremely difficult to conduct such a hearing remotely.
This is just a brief guide in relation to Child Arrangements and Orders, however, if you would like more information then please do not hesitate to contact our Family Team who will arrange an appointment to discuss matters further on either 01302 341414 for our Doncaster office or 0114 2721884 for our Sheffield office.