Cafcass stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It is there to assist the Court and to safeguard and promote the welfare of children during the Court Process. Essentially, they represent children in family court cases, making sure that their voices are heard.
Once an application has been filed with the Court for a Child Arrangements Order this will be listed for a hearing known as a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA).
Before the hearing, the Court will ask a Cafcass Officer to conduct a Safeguarding Check. Both parents are separately contacted by the Cafcass Officer who discuss and ascertain any concerns that either parent may have about the other parent. An initial Police Check will also be conducted on both the parents, which may or may not flag up any past or current involvement with the Police. The Cafcass Officer then prepares an initial report.
Sometimes just before the FHDRA, the parties (in most cases the Mother and Father) will have an opportunity to meet with the Cafcass Officer who will attempt to reach an agreement between them. If an agreement can be reached, this will be communicated to the Court and the Court will then draft an order setting out the terms of the agreement.
If an agreement can’t be reached, the Court will probably make the following directions: -
- That both parties are to file statements within a designated time;
- Most importantly, that Cafcass prepare a section 7 report (sometimes called a ‘Welfare Report’) within the next 12 weeks.
The Cafcass report will consider what is known as a welfare check list and will analyse, amongst other things, the wishes and feelings of the child taking into account their age and understanding, any likely harm the child may suffer, any harm the child may suffer from change in circumstance, and the capability of the parents. The Cafcass report will draw a conclusion and make a recommendation as to Child Arrangements. It’s important to note that the recommendations in the Cafcass report are almost always followed by the Court.
The Court will then list the matter for a Dispute Resolution Appointment (a Review Hearing) where the contents of the Cafcass Report will be considered and if an agreement can be reached then all well and good. If an agreement still can’t be reached but the matter will be listed for a Final Hearing.
Depending on the recommendations from Cafcass, the Court can make the following orders;
- Monitoring Order, where there is a disputed transition from supervised to unsupervised contact or where there has been a real reluctance for any contact to take place.
- Family Assistance Order. This is a short-term order which the Court can grant under Section 16 of the Children Act 1989 requiring a CAFCASS officer or an officer from the Local Authority to advise, assist and (where appropriate) befriend any person in the named order.
We offer a free, 15-minute, pre-bookable phone call with one of our experienced family law team. Alternatively, we offer a fixed £99 fee inc VAT for a 45-minute meeting with one of our highly experienced family team. If you would like some confidential advice about a family legal issue, contact us today to book a meeting.