When you issue any application in the court regarding children, the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will become involved. CAFCASS are an independent body who put the children’s needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting, and that decisions are made in their best interests.
CAFCASS will be provided with a copy of your application by the court and will make preliminary enquiries in order to advise the court at the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment. As mentioned previously they will perform safeguarding checks and telephone interviews and will then provide a letter for the Court and will include a recommendation on how to proceed. You should receive a copy of the letter at least 2 working days before the First Appointment.
The recommendations will vary from simply confirming that there are no safeguarding issues and that it is a matter for the court to decide, to recommending further investigations into issues or recommending a course of action such as a Fact Finding Hearing.
If further investigations are necessary this may be in the form of a Wishes and Feelings report. You will be appointed a CAFCASS officer who will obtain the wishes and feelings of any children in an age appropriate way and usually in a neutral setting such as the school.
A more in depth report may be required if there are safeguarding concerns. This is known as a Section 7 Report. Again an officer will be appointed to carry out the report and the Court will direct what issues need to be investigated. This Report will usually involve further face to face interviews with the parties, or any other 3rd parties involved, and may include observing the children with the parties.
Finally in the most difficult or complicated cases a CAFCASS officer may be appointed as a Children’s Guardian under rule 16.4 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010. If a Children’s Guardian is appointed the Guardian will become a party to the proceedings and will represent the children. They will usually appoint their own solicitor too. Guardians are only appointed in cases which involve an issue of significant difficulty and consequently will only occur in the minority of cases.
Situations which may give rise to a Guardian being appointed are as follows:
(a) where a CAFCASS has notified the court that in their opinion the child should be made a party;
(b) where the child has a standpoint or interest which is inconsistent with or incapable of being represented by any of the adult parties;
(c) where there is an intractable dispute over residence or contact, including where all contact has ceased, or where there is irrational but implacable hostility to contact or where the child may be suffering harm associated with the contact dispute;
(d) where the views and wishes of the child cannot be adequately met by a report to the court;
(e) where an older child is opposing a proposed course of action;
(f) where there are complex medical or mental health issues to be determined or there are other unusually complex issues that necessitate separate representation of the child;
(g) where there are international complications outside child abduction, in particular where it may be necessary for there to be discussions with overseas authorities or a foreign court;
(h) where there are serious allegations of physical, sexual or other abuse in relation to the child or there are allegations of domestic violence not capable of being resolved with the help of a CAFCASS officer;
(i) where the proceedings concern more than one child and the welfare of the children is in conflict or one child is in a particularly disadvantaged position;
(j) where there is a contested issue about scientific testing.
Ultimately CAFCASS are there to support and advise the Court as an impartial third party representing what is in the best interests of the children, in whatever capacity is required in each individual case. If you have any questions about CAFCASS’s involvement in your case or would like to discuss your situation confidentially with one of our experienced solicitors then please contact Stephanie Layton on 0191 232 8345.