My parents are separating
Sometimes after parents separate they find it hard to agree on important things and will ask the court for help.
Cafcass knows 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. People 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.
What happens when families go to court?
Your parent or carer has asked the court to help them with making the right decision about you by filling in an application. This decision might be about who you should live with or how much time you should spend with each parent.
The court looks at the application and decides whether a judge or magistrate is best to help. The court will decide a date for a meeting at court, called a hearing.
A judge works in the family court. They listen to information about you and will make the decision about what is right for you.
Magistrates are trained members of the community who also work in the family court. There are normally three magistrates who will make a decision about you.
The court will then ask Cafcass to help. A Cafcass worker will contact your parents to talk about the issues they are having. Cafcass workers, called Family Court Advisers, help adults work out things like who looks after you and who you should spend time with. They will also talk to the police and local authority to see whether they have any relevant information about your family.
The Cafcass worker is here to make sure that the best things happen for you. Cafcass and the courts will help you and your family in the safest way possible and as quickly as they can.
They then write a report called a safeguarding letter to the court to tell them about your situation.
Your parents and a Cafcass worker will attend court and they will tell the judge or magistrate what they think will be best for you. The judge or magistrate will read the safeguarding letter 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.
If the court needs more information they will ask Cafcass to complete a section 7 report. This report will be completed by another Cafcass worker and will include more information from your parents and maybe from other people, like your school.
In most cases the Cafcass worker will talk to you about your wishes and feelings. You can also ask them questions.
Can I speak to the judge?
The Cafcass worker will ask you if you would like to write a letter or draw a picture to the judge. You can also ask the Cafcass worker if you would like to meet with the judge. The judge will decide if this is OK.
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 from your parents and the Cafcass worker.
Find out more
Would you like to find out what other children and young people think of the family courts?
Ellie*, a member of the Family Justice Young People’s Board, shares her experience of her parents’ breakdown and how Cafcass helped when her parents went to court.
“It was a few years ago and it was hard for me and my brother. The whole thing was scary because we didn’t know what was happening or what was going to happen. Also, when you’re a kid the only thing you know about courts is that it’s a place for criminals, and that made it scary too. Why were we going to court? That’s not a place where we should go. Everything felt really unstable.
“Cafcass set up a meeting to explain what was going on and that helped. They told us why we were going through this process. It was useful to have them break down the situation and explain what was going on. I didn’t feel so scared after that.
“It was good to speak to the Cafcass worker because at that point it was really hard to talk to my parents, really hard to communicate with both of them. Cafcass told us about the possible outcomes and what might happen, and that was helpful.
“Me and my brother were really happy with the outcome. I live with my mum now, but I see my dad nearly every day. He doesn’t live far from me. My mum and dad are on speaking terms now as well, which is really good.
“I would say to any young person going through this, don’t be afraid to say how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. It’s better to ask there and then because you have to go through the whole process. There’s a big decision that’s going to be made at the end of the day and you have to know what’s going on so you can tell people how you feel.
“One thing that changed after the process was that I’m actually closer to my dad now. He was always the stricter parent, so when I said I wanted to live with my mum, I was scared to tell him, but he was okay with it and asked me when I wanted to see him. He reassured me and now I feel like I can talk to him about anything because I could tell him that and it was OK.
“I’m really excited to be on the Young People’s Board. I think it’s so important that young people who have actually been through this can help determine how things can change and how the process works at Cafcass. It’s a really good set-up where young people can have their say.”
*This name has been changed.
“Last year my mum and dad were shouting all the time, and one day my dad stormed off.
“I was really sad when Dad left, and I didn’t really understand what was happening. My mum was upset too, and one day Dad came round but Mum wouldn’t let him in. I still wanted to see my dad, but I didn’t like telling my mum because she got upset.
“After a while, my mum told me that someone would come and talk to me about what was happening. Her name was Anne, and she said she was from Cafcass. Anne talked to me about my mum and dad, and then she came with me to see Dad in a special room called a contact centre. It had toys that I could play with. I played with Dad for a while on the table football, and Anne was watching. I had a nice time and I liked seeing Dad again. Anne also came to see me at home, and talked to my mum there as well.
“I told Anne that I liked playing with my dad, and I missed him. But it was better at home now there was no shouting and arguing.
“Anne said that she was going to write a report for the court about me and my family, and about spending time with my mum and dad. I thought she was going to ask me who I wanted to live with, but she didn’t. We talked about my pets and school, and drew some pictures about Dad and Mum. Anne told me that someone called a judge would decide about me seeing Mum and Dad, but they wanted to know what I thought. I didn’t say much about this and Anne said that was OK.
“My mum and dad went to the family court and the judge listened to everyone and read Anne’s report. The judge then made a decision about seeing my dad, and Mum told me what they had decided.”
“At first I did not really know what was happening. I was worried because my mum was so angry and upset, but I also missed Dad. I heard my mum on the phone talking to a solicitor so I thought something might be happening in court. I wanted to ask about Dad and Granny who we used to see every Saturday, but I thought Mum might get upset.
“A man from Cafcass called Jim came to meet me and Darren. I was a bit nervous as I thought he would ask me lots of questions. However, he seemed to understand what it was like for children when their mums and dads split up. Jim said he was going to talk to us and write a report for the court to help them decide what to do. He arranged to meet me and Darren in his office as that was a private place to talk. Darren liked it there because there were lots of good toys, and I found it easier to talk to Jim than I thought it would be.
“I told Jim that I knew Mum and Dad were very angry with each other and that I didn’t want to see any more rows between them. I also told him I missed my granny a lot and her dog Spotty who we used to take for walks every weekend.
“Jim sorted it out so that Darren and I could start visiting Dad at Granny’s house. I liked this better than seeing my dad in his new flat as it felt strange there and I didn’t really know his new girlfriend. Jim also helped explain to Mum that I didn’t like her saying mean things about Dad.
“After a few weeks, Jim came back and talked through what he was putting in his report for the court. I was worried about Mum and Dad being cross about what I had told him, so Jim helped me sort out exactly what I wanted to say to them. He said that he would suggest to the court that Darren and I live with Mum but see Dad and Granny every weekend.
“At the family court, the judge listened to everyone, and read Jim’s report, and then made a decision about where Darren and I should live.”
PS from Darren
“I did not really know what was happening. I thought my dad was working away from home and would come back, although I heard him shout at my mum a lot and that scared me. Jim was nice although I did not fancy going to his office. I thought it would be lots of boring talking. But there were good toys. Jim did not make me say a lot. I was glad I had Kelly with me. Jim had met my granny and knew we liked going to her house at weekends. Now we go and see Dad, Granny and Spotty every week.”
Kitty, Jess and Ewan talk about how Cafcass worked with them