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It can be difficult for parents, carers, or family members to come to an agreement about access to children. Individuals with parental responsibility have an automatic right to see their children regularly and should aim to come to a private arrangement. Whilst other family members do not have an automatic right to have access, however, it is recognised by the court that access can be fundamental to a child’s development.
If individuals are not able to come to a private agreement, they must attempt mediation before applying for a child arrangements order. Mediation can be arranged through the Family Mediation Association on 01355 244 594 who will help you locate a mediator within your local area. Mediation is an opportunity for both parties to discuss their wishes and concerns whilst trying to come to an agreement about the arrangements.
Upon engaging with mediation, both individuals will need to attend a MIAM meeting which is an individual meeting with the mediator to assess the suitability of mediation. If mediation is not suitable you will be referred to court to apply for a child arrangements order.
Child arrangements order process
Applications can be made by anyone with parental responsibility or anyone who is granted permission from the courts. The order would determine where the child lives and how much contact the non-resident parent or family member can have with the child. Applications cost £215 and can be submitted using the C100 form which can be downloaded or submitted online through www.gov.uk.
What to expect after applying?
Once an application has been submitted by the applicant, the respondent will be served with notice and given an opportunity to respond. Both parties will be invited to attend the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) where the judge will gather more information about the case and consider any safeguarding concerns. The judge will ensure that mediation has been attempted and continue to encourage both parties to reach an agreement.
If discussions are unsuccessful or concerns are raised about the children’s wellbeing the court may schedule a fact-finding hearing and a report from CAFCASS. To create the report, CAFCASS will contact both parties to discuss the child’s wellbeing. They may also speak to the children if they are of a suitable age and make general enquiries about the safety of the child with social services and the police where applicable. CAFCASS’s role is to assess the needs of the children and report their findings to the court for review.
Throughout the court process, the judge will consider the facts of the case alongside the Welfare Checklist under Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 which states that the following must be considered.
A final hearing may be required if an agreement cannot be reached. The applicant will be expected to prepare a bundle, position statement and chronology for the court. During the hearing, both parties will be given the opportunity to challenge the opposing parties’ evidence and the judge will make an order detailing specific child arrangements.
During this process, the court can issue a temporary order referred to as an ‘interim order’ if required.
Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
Within each jurisdiction, it is best practice to attempt mediation prior to considering court action. However, Individuals have a right to take action can be taken under the following acts.
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