Divorce and separation
Cafcass becomes involved in cases only at the request of the court. After the court has received the application from either you or the other party, the court will usually refer the case to us.
We will then provide the court with information needed for a safe decision to be made about the arrangements for your children. We will try to help you and the other adult (who is called a ‘party’) reach a safe agreement about your children. The legal process is set out in the Child Arrangements Programme 2014.
What does Cafcass do?
Before the first hearing, we will usually do the following:
- Safeguarding checks: We carry out checks with the police and the local authority to find out whether there are any known safety or welfare risks to your children.
- Telephone interview: In most cases, we phone you and the other party to find out if either of you have any concerns about the safety and welfare of your children. You are unlikely to have a home visit before the first hearing. Only people who are parties to the case will be interviewed. If one of the parties wants to submit a statement from a third person, then they can do so and it becomes part of their case. This phone call may be made close to the hearing date, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from us immediately after receiving our introductory letter.
- Safeguarding letter: At least three days before the first hearing we will provide the court with a short report on the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues raised in the telephone interviews with you and the other party: this is known as a safeguarding letter.
The court may ask Cafcass to provide an update to a safeguarding letter (an ‘addendum report’) if information comes to light after the filing of the first letter, or after the first hearing. The court will agree timescales for an update to be made. However, as a matter of good practice, Cafcass will aim to file any report at least three days before any hearing where safeguarding information is required by the court.
At the first hearing
A Cafcass worker will work with you and the other party at the first hearing.
If it has not been possible for you or the other party to have completed the telephone interview, the Cafcass worker will ensure any outstanding safeguarding issues are discussed, assessed, and made available to the court.
If there are no child protection safeguarding concerns, the Cafcass worker will try to help you and the other party reach a safe agreement without further court proceedings. This may involve discussing completion of a Parenting Plan.
The Cafcass worker will then report any safeguarding issues and proposed next steps to the court and the parties.
If you and the other party can reach an agreement, and the court is satisfied that this is safe and in your children’s best interests, it may be possible to end the process at this stage by making a ‘consent order’.
However, if you are not able to agree, or there are concerns about the welfare or safety of your children, the court may:
- order you and the other party to take part in separated parents programme (SPIPs);
- refer you and the other party to a mediation assessment meeting or ask us to help you reach an agreement;
- order a ‘finding of fact’ hearing if there have been disputed allegations that might affect the outcome of the case, such as of domestic abuse. In cases where domestic abuse is acknowledged, or found to have taken place, the court may order a party to take part in a domestic abuse perpetrator programme (DAPP);
- ask us to carry out more detailed work with your family and to write a report about your children’s welfare (known as a section 7 report).
After the first hearing
If after the first court hearing parties are not able to reach an agreement about children or there are concerns about the welfare of children the court may ask us to write a report about your child’s welfare (known as a section 7 report) to help the judge make a safe decision.
Help and support
Throughout the whole process the Cafcass worker will be able to answer any questions you may have about your case, although Cafcass is unable to give you legal advice.
You may wish to get advice from a solicitor or from some of the organisations listed on our resources for parents and carers page.
You may also find this guidance note by The Transparency Project helpful; it takes parents and professionals through the main aspects of how domestic abuse is dealt with in the family court.
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