Q. My former partner and I separated four months ago and since then we have not been able to agree on child access arrangements for me to see my son, 13 and daughter, 11. My spouse has refused to attend mediation so my solicitor has advised me to make an application to the court. What is the process?
A. Your solicitor will prepare a form C100 before submitting it to the court. This form sets out the reason for your application and provides the court with details relating to you, your former partner and your children.
The court will then send a copy of your form C100 to your former partner and you will both be notified of the date for your first hearing – the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA).
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will conduct initial telephone interviews with you and your former partner as well as carrying out checks with the local authority and police.
At the FHDRA the judge will ascertain whether it is possible to resolve the case by agreement. Your solicitor and your former partner’s solicitor will explain to the court the issues involved in the case and what is in dispute. The judge may indicate how they believe the matter should be resolved. If it is not possible to resolve the case by agreement then it will proceed to a final hearing.
The court may ask CAFCASS to prepare a full report on the issues in the case, including speaking to the children to find out what they would like to happen. If CAFCASS are asked to produce a report the court may decide to hold a directions appointment before the final hearing.
At the directions appointment the court will consider the CAFCASS report and the recommendations contained in it. You and your former partner will again be encouraged to reach an agreement. The court almost always follows the recommendations contained in a CAFCASS report so this is a good opportunity to try to resolve your dispute without the need for a final hearing.
If agreement cannot be reached and it is necessary for there to be a final hearing your solicitor will usually instruct a barrister to represent you. You and your former partner will give evidence to the court and be cross examined and the CAFCASS officer who prepared your report may also attend and be asked questions. The court will then make a final decision and make a Child Arrangements Order, setting out the arrangements for the children.
For more information on disputes relating to child access or to discuss any aspect of family law please contact Janine Hutson on 01772 258321.