Overview of our involvement with you as you go through the court process
There is a helpful guide for separated parents regarding children and the family courts on the HMCTS website: Guide for separated parents: Children and the family courts (CB7)
After a private law application is received by the court
The court notifies us about new private law children’s cases where Cafcass are being asked to provide advice or support. We are sent a copy of the application form by the courts and any supporting documents such as statements to help us understand your family’s current situation and why an application has been made.
Before the first hearing
Before the first hearing, we will undertake the following:
- Safeguarding checks: We carry out safeguarding checks with the police and the local authority to find out whether there are any concerns about the welfare or safety of your child or other children.
- Telephone interview: In most cases, we make an appointment to talk to you and your child’s other parent or carer on the phone. This is to find out if you have any concerns about the welfare or safety of your child. Only people who are parties to the court proceedings will be interviewed and we do not speak with or meet children at this stage in proceedings. You are unlikely to have a home visit before the first hearing. Our phone interviews may be made close to the hearing date, so do not worry if you do not hear from us immediately after receiving our welcome letter. If you want to submit a statement from a person who is not named on the application, then you must send it to the court, not to Cafcass.
- Safeguarding letter: At least three days before the first court hearing, we will provide the court with a short report on the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues raised by you and the other party. This is known as a safeguarding letter.
The court may ask us to provide an update to a Safeguarding Letter if information, such as one of the safeguarding checks, is unavailable at the time of the first hearing.
At the first hearing
A Family Court Adviser (FCA) will be available to you and your child’s other parent or carer at the first hearing.
If it has not been possible for an FCA to have had the telephone interview with you or your child’s other parent before the first hearing, they will discuss any outstanding safeguarding issues and make an assessment and advise the court. The FCA will discuss the content of the Safeguarding Letter with the court and will advise on next steps to identify the best arrangements for your child.
If there are no child safeguarding concerns, the FCA will try to help you and your child’s other parent reach an agreement without further court proceedings. This could include completing a Parenting Plan.
If you and your child’s other parent can reach an agreement, and the court is satisfied that this is in your child’s best interests, it may be possible to end the proceedings 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 child, the court may:
- Order you and the other party to take a Parenting Together for Children course;
- 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 disputed allegations have been made that could affect the decision of the court, such as disputed allegations of domestic abuse; or
- Ask us to carry out a more detailed assessment and to write a report about your child’s welfare (known as a 'section 7 report').
Help and support
Throughout the whole process, the FCA will be able to answer any questions you may have, although they will not 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 explored and addressed in the family court.