A child’s welfare is the family court’s paramount concern when it comes to deciding arrangements after separation.
As society changes, with fewer of us identifying with the traditional nuclear family, splits and divorces can be more complicated and family courts are increasingly being asked to resolve issues.
Here are a few answers to frequently asked questions which will explain some of the processes and terms:
How do I Get Parental Responsibility?
You have Parental Responsibility if you are mum or dad, if you were married when the child was born or if you obtain it through a Parental Responsibility Order. You also have it if you subsequently get married or have re-registered your child’s birth on or after 1 December 2003.
Other people can secure it such as in the event of Adoption, obtaining an Order or being the child’s Guardian.
How do I Apply For an Order?
There is a principle of non-intervention of the court, meaning it will only get involved if parents can’t agree.
In most circumstances before anyone can apply to the court for an order you have to attempt to resolve matters.
This usually means attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to see if mediation might be one way to get parents talking and keep matters out of court.
Parents may wish to try and resolve matters more informally, perhaps with trusted family members or friends to assist with anything that might be considered an obstacle. Mediation is not obligatory in situations involving potential harm to a child or where domestic abuse might feature.
What if Mediation Doesn't Work?
If it is really necessary, you may wish to make an application to court. This might be in relation to when and where a child should live or spend time with a parent, a Specific Issue Order such as which school a child should attend, a Prohibited Steps Order, which could prevent removal of a child from United Kingdom, or any other relevant order to a child’s upbringing.
If an application is made to court then CAFCASS will be asked to undertake a safeguarding check which involves contacting social work agencies and the police about any information held before the first court hearing, to make sure there is nothing which might impact upon the child’s welfare and therefore the court’s decision making.
What is CAFCASS?
It’s the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which is independent of the court, social services and other similar agencies. It may be asked by the court in the more serious cases to provide information about a family and guidance as to how the court should exercise its powers. It seeks to provide a voice to the child in line with the court’s need to take account of a child’s “ascertainable wishes and feelings” in any decision. The court will be guided by any recommendation made by CAFCASS or give good reasons if not doing so.
Does The Court Always go in Favour of The Mother?
The family court is even handed in its approach and decisions are made with the best interests of the children in mind.
We believe it is important that you seek legal advice during this process. The award winning team I work with have years of experience representing parents who are going through children disputes to secure the best possible outcome.
For an initial consultation please call the police family law solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0808 175 7710 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help. Alternatively you can contact us via your local federation.
Amanda McAlister is the head of family law at Slater and Gordon.