This page refers to Family Law cases involving Child Arrangements. It does not cover cases where a Local Authority (Social Services) have started a court case because of child protection concerns.
This is a simple guide to the Child Arrangements Programme. The full programme is contained in Practice Direction 12B of the Family Court Rules here.
Parents or carers of children are generally able to start proceedings without permission, but if not there is an additional early stage where you have to seek ‘LEAVE’ (permission) of the Court to apply (Use form C2).
Before making an application to Court all applicants must firstly attend a ‘MIAM’ unless they are exempt. A MIAM is a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, the aim of which is to explore if the problem can be settled by Mediation. If the case is not suitable for mediation or it cannot progress the mediator will confirm this to allow you to carry on and apply.
The person who wants the help of the Court now have to ISSUE an application at the Court using specific forms (usually C100) and this will set a timetable in motion. This person is the Applicant.
At least 14 days before the first Court hearing (a date set by the Court) the Applicant must SERVE (send) the documents on the other party. The Court may do this for you if you have no lawyer – you will need to check.
The other person should ACKNOWLEDGE receipt of the documents and fill in their ANSWER form within 14 days of service. There is a form they can use for this (Form C7). The person responding to the application is called the RESPONDENT.
Once the application has been issued CAFCASS (Children & Families Court Advisory & Support Service) – will start making some basic safeguarding enquiries with the Police and Social Services. You may receive a phone call from them. At this stage they will only want to talk to you about any safety issues for you or the children.
The first hearing is called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). To give time for the safeguarding checks it will usually not be less than 4 weeks after issue of the application. At the FHDRA the Court will consider the safeguarding information and will try and encourage the parties to resolve the matter by agreement.
If the safeguarding information is not available the Court might postpone the FHDRA.
If everything can be agreed the Court might make a final order and the case will end.
The Court will listen to both parties but will not hear any evidence, and if things cannot be completely resolved will normally make DIRECTIONS to progress the case or get the case ready for a fuller hearing. The Court will not always make temporary orders about the children at this stage. The Court can ask you both to go to a MIAM if you have not already done so. The Court might order CAFCASS to prepare a report. Typically this will take about 12 weeks to prepare and if ordered the Court will ask you to come back to Court a couple of weeks after the report is finished. If there are factual disputes that are important to the decision the Court has to make about the children (for example domestic abuse allegations that are denied) the Court might decide to deal with those first and direct both parties to prepare written statements about the allegations in advance of a FACT FINDING HEARING. After a fact finding hearing the Court can consider if it needs a report from CAFCASS, based upon what the judge has decided did or did not happen.
FACT FINDING HEARING (if necessary)
Usually both of you will give evidence, so this hearing might take longer, perhaps half a day or a day.
CAFCASS REPORT (if necessary)
DISPUTE RESOLUTION APPOINTMENT. Once the Court has decided on what happened in the past at any fact finding hearing and everyone has received any recommendations from CAFCASS you will be called back to see if the matter can be agreed and the case will end. If it can a final order is likely to be made. If not the case will probably be listed for a final hearing, with time for you to give evidence. The Court might ask you to put your case in writing in the form of a witness statement.
Prior to a FINAL HEARING the applicant has to prepare a BUNDLE for use by all sides and the Judge at Court. This is basically all the papers and statements in the case set out in an organised way. (If there are no lawyers involved in the case the court may prepare the bundle.) Other documents that the Court normally requires are an up to date summary, a position statement (i.e. what you want!) and a simple chronology.
The FINAL HEARING itself is a form of trial when usually both parties will give evidence and will be able to challenge the parts of the other persons evidence by asking them questions. The Judge will listen and come to a decision. ORDER(S) are then made telling the parties what they can and cannot do.
This should normally be the end of the matter but you may have to return to court to seek enforcement of an Order if the other party is not abiding by it, or if the order needs to be changed and you cannot agree it.