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What happens once an application for a Child Arrangements Order is made?

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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.

What is the role of Cafcass?

In cases relating to child contact disputes (such as for a Child Arrangements Order) Cafcass will usually carry out certain checks prior to the first hearing. This will involve them contacting the police and Local Authority to see if there are any known safeguarding or welfare concerns about the child(ren) involved. Cafcass will also usually speak to each parent (usually be telephone) to give them an opportunity to explain any safeguarding or welfare concerns which they have. Cafcass will then prepare a safeguarding letter; this is a short report which Cafcass make available to the court containing the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any potential welfare issues which have been identified. The safeguarding letter is usually made available to the court at least three days prior to the hearing.

At the first hearing the court will determine the future role of Cafcass in the proceedings. If there are no welfare concerns, then a Cafcass officer may still be involved to try to assist the parties in coming to an agreement with minimal further court proceedings. If parents are unable to reach an agreement or there are welfare concerns, then the Cafcass officer may be asked to carry out further work with the family and prepare a more detailed report on the welfare issues.

What is an Interim Child Arrangements Order?

An interim order can be made pending the court making a final decision. This temporary order is put in place for many reasons; however the court is often reluctant to do this if Cafcass haven’t provided safeguarding information.

What is Supervised Contact?

Supervised contact is observed by trained professionals. Sometimes (but not always) this will happen in a contact centre. A contact centre is a place that is set up especially for children to see their parents or other family member.

This form of contact is provided where it is assessed that there might be a higher risk or a greater need for support in a family’s situation. Observations will be made, and reports will be written. Staff will remain within sight and sound of children at all times.

When is a Second Dispute Resolution Appointment Required?

Assuming no agreement can be made at the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment, all parties will be required to attend court for a second hearing, this is known as the Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). Once any court directions have been complied with, for example the parents may have been requested to provide information from a GP or health professional, and any Cafcass report received and considered, this further hearing will take place. This hearing is necessary to see whether matters can be agreed given the additional information available. If it can be, then as with the FHDRA, the court will make a final order, if so, a final order will be made. If there is continued disagreement however, then the matter will be listed for a final hearing. The Court will usually request all parties to submit statements of evidence which they seek to rely on prior to the final hearing.

INSERT CTA HERE …. WHAT CAN A SOLICITOR DO TO HELP THE APPLICANT?

A solicitor can help you explain to the court why you would like a certain order to be made. This will be based on the evidence already provided to the court and any Cafcass report. A solicitor can advise you in relation to any evidence that might still be required to narrow the issues. If an agreement is reached a solicitor can draft a court order reflecting what has been agreed.
 

Final Hearing

If you reach the Final Hearing, then you are accepting that the matter is now out of your hands and a judge will make the final order based on all the information presented. It is likely that this Order will not align with what your ideal outcome is.

The Final Hearing is a form of trial where usually both parties will give evidence and will be able to challenge the other’s evidence by asking them questions. If Cafcass have prepared a report, the Cafcass officer will often present their findings and recommendations at the final hearing and can be examined on his or her recommendations. The Judge will listen to all evidence and come to a decision before making the final order. The Final Order will set out what the legal arrangements are for the children. Both parties must comply with the final order, if they fail to do so this could result in a further legal action to enforce the order.
 



How do I get in Touch?

If you are need advice regarding Child Arrangements Orders and to know how a solicitor can help you navigate the process, then please do not hesitate to contact our team.
 

Garforth
Westbourne House, 99 Lidgett Lane, Garforth, Leeds, LS25 1LJ
Tel: 0113 246 4423
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk

Ossett
25 Bank Street, Ossett, WF5 8PS
Tel: 01924 586466
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk

Sherburn in Elmet
6 Finkle Hill, Sherburn in Elmet, Leeds, LS25 6EA
Tel: 01977 350500
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk

Wakefield
Bank House, 1 Burton Street, Wakefield, WF1 2GF
Tel: 01924 290029
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk
 



About Shelley Wales

Shelley brings over 20 years of experience to Thornton Jones and has extensive experience in dealing with disputes relating to matters such as where a child should live, how much time should a child spend with each parent, preventing a parent from doing something or requiring a parent to do something, moving abroad with a child, and change of a child’s name.