Once an application for a Child Arrangement Order has been made, Cafcass (Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service) will start making basic safeguarding enquiries with the Police and Social Services. All parties will be contacted by Cafcass for an initial discussion, usually by telephone. At this stage they will only want to discuss with you any safety issues regarding the children.
What Happens at a Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA)?
The first hearing, known as a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) will usually not be less than four weeks after making the application for a Child Arrangements Order.
At the FHDRA, the Court will consider the safeguarding information provided by Cafcass and will try and encourage the parties to resolve the matter by mutual agreement. If everything can be agreed without a court’s intervention, then the Court will make a final order and the case will end. The Court will listen to both parties at this hearing but will not hear any evidence. The Final Order is a legally binding document that all parties must adhere to.
Who attends the FHDRA?
Both parties are required to attend the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment. A duty Cafcass officer will also be present. The hearing will usually take place before a Judge or an appointed Legal Adviser.
What if no agreement can be made at the FHDRA?
If matters cannot be mutually agreed, the Court may make directions, for example, the parties may be requested to provide further information which might assist the court to make decisions about the children, before progressing the matter further or to a fuller hearing. Interim orders can be made at this stage regarding the children’s arrangements, for example interim contact, whether this is direct or indirect, unsupervised, or supported by a third party, or at a contact centre.
What happens if there are Welfare Concerns?
If welfare concerns have been raised about the children by one or both parties, the Court may order Cafcass to prepare a more detailed report. These usually take 12 -16 weeks to prepare and will include at least one meeting between the allocated officer and the parties involved. In some cases, where the wishes and feelings of the children are deemed an important factor, the officer may wish to meet with the children directly. This will always be conducted safely and sensitively. Cafcass will make recommendations at the end of their report as to what the long-term arrangements for the children should be.