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My parents live apart and can’t agree arrangements for me

My parents live apart and cannot agree arrangements for me

When parents live apart or separate, they can find it hard to agree on important arrangements such as who you should live with and how much time you should spend with each of them. Sometimes, they will ask the court to help them agree what is best. These types of family court decisions are known as ‘private law’ court proceedings.

We know that this can be a really hard time for you and that you may feel unsure about what is going to happen next. Remember, whatever is happening to you and your family right now is not your fault. Your Cafcass worker, anyone who you speak to at Cafcass and the family court will listen to you and try to help. 

Here is some information for you about what might happen when your family goes to court and who can help you. 

A young boy with a basketball


One of your parents or carers has asked the family court to help them to make a decision about something important that affects you. This might be about who you should live with or how much time you should spend with each of your parents. 

Parent carer family member

The Court

A family court is not the same as a criminal court. Criminal courts consider whether someone has broken the law. Family courts do not do this. If your parents live apart or are separating, the family court helps them to decide what is best for you and your family.    

The court will decide a date for a meeting to discuss the decision about you. This is called a ‘hearing’.

A judge is an important person in the family court. They listen to information about you and will make the decision about what is right for you. You can ask to speak to them or write a letter

Cartoon of family court


When it has looked at what your parents or carers want to happen, the family court might ask us to help. Our workers are called Family Court Advisers. They help adults work out things like who should look after you and who you should spend time with. They will also talk to other people who may be involved with your family to find out whether they have any information that the court may need to know when it decides what is best for you.

Our workers are there to make sure that your voice is heard and that decisions are taken in your best interests. Cafcass and the courts will help you and your family in the safest way possible. We also try to do this as quickly as we can but unfortunately, some decisions in the family court can take longer than we or the other people involved in the court would like.

Our workers will write a report to the court to tell them about your situation. 

Cartoon of child drawing with their Cafcass officer


Your parents and our worker will attend court and they will speak to the judge about what they think will be best for you. You will not need to attend the court hearing. The judge will read the report and hear from your parents. They will decide whether they have enough information to make a decision. Once they have decided, they will write their decision down – this is called a court order.

Family Court Judge

Section 7 Report or child impact report

If the court needs more information before it can make a decision, they will ask us to complete a more detailed report about what life is like for you, what you hope for and what your wishes and feelings are. The family court adviser will come to meet you and may also ask to speak to other people who know you well like your school or other family members.

A cartoon of a Cafcass worker talking to a Dad and his son

Before the court hearing

We think it is very important that you understand what we are going to say to the court and why. Your family court adviser will make time to explain their thinking to you and ask what you also think about their recommendations. It is important that your words about this are written into the report to the court so the judge can see them. Sharing our recommendations with you is a very important part of our work with you.  

You can ask your family court adviser any questions you might have.  

A Cafcass worker and young boy chat on two chairs

Can I speak to the judge?

Our worker will ask you if you would like to write a letter to the judge or draw a picture for them if you think this might help them to understand your wishes and feelings about what is happening to your family. You do not need to meet the judge, but if you would like to meet them, then you can ask our worker to let the judge know. The judge will decide if this is okay and when this could happen.

Who decides?

At the court hearing, the judge will make a decision about what is best for you. They will know your wishes and feelings but will also think about all the other information they have heard from your parents and from the family court adviser.

Find out more

Would you like to find out what other children and young people think of the family courts? 

A young girl sits and smiles while talking to a woman

Feedback from a child with whom we have worked

“I am happy I got to say what I wanted and what my wishes are and was good to know that the judge and my family would hear these too. This helped me a lot. My Cafcass worker helped me tell everyone what was a good plan for me and how I felt about this.”

Find out why feedback is so important to us and how to provide it here