Court Procedure for Disputes Relating to Children

When a marriage breaks down, it can be hardest of all on any children, especially if there is a dispute over who the child should live with and where.

In these cases, if the situation can be agreed amicably outside of Court, it is usually the best interests of the child so that they are not exposed to the emotional distress of prolonged Court proceedings. It is vital to seek legal advice if you are involved in a dispute relating to a child. The expert team of Family Law solicitors at Forbes are able to help you through the mediation process and, if necessary, through the Court proceedings with compassion and support - and always with the best interests of your child at heart.

Legal matters relating to children are governed by the Children Act 1989, where the child's welfare is imperative and this will be the guiding principle of the Court.

Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting

Before proceedings are started, both parties will be referred to a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which the parties can attend together or separately. If the case goes to Court, you and your former spouse will need to show you have attempted mediation in order to go ahead.

The mediator will assess whether or not your case is suitable for mediation and whether there are any risks that would exempt you and your former spouse from the mediation process. Circumstances that could exempt you from the MIAM are:

  • Domestic abuse.
  • Child protection issues.
  • Related proceedings issued within the prior 4 months.
  • Urgency.
  • A disability which makes the facilitation of a MIAM impossible.
  • Lack of contact respondents' contact details.
  • Imprisonment or bail conditions that do not permit the MIAM.
  • Non-residency in England and Wales.
  • The fact that a child would be a prospective party.
  • Lack of availability of MIAM facilities.

If the MIAM goes ahead and there is an agreement reached between the parties then the case concludes here without the need for Court attendance. If not, an application to the Court must be completed to which the Court will respond with a notice of hearing.

First Hearing

The First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) will usually take place 5 weeks after the application to Court and it will likely be attended by a Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory Service) Officer.

The Cafcass Officer is independent of all parties in the case. They will speak with all parties (either together or separately) and, depending on their age, with the child as well as they are specifically trained in working with children. Cafcass Officers often help families resolve disputes at an early stage in proceedings.

The FHDRA gives both parties an opportunity to put their position forward and aims to help you to understand the divisive issues and to reach an agreement. If this is possible, the Court will be able to make the appropriate Order and help you and your former husband or wife to put it into effect as amicably as possible.

If an agreement cannot be reached at this stage, the Court will identify any outstanding issues, while the Cafcass Officer will recommend ways to resolve them.

The Court will also consider if any of the following is needed:

  • A welfare report from a Cafcass Officer or the Local Authority.
  • A wishes and feelings report from a Cafcass Officer.
  • If there is a need for expert evidence.
  • If there is a need for evidence from either party.
  • If there is a need for a hearing to determine any disputes or allegations.
  • A timetable for the child so that the proceedings can be resolved as soon as it is possible.

Review Hearing

This review of the case hopes to avoid a Final Hearing and wrap things up as quickly as possible in the interests of the child's wellbeing.

The Court will assess any evidence provided and identify any further issues and determine if and how they can be resolved. If matters cannot be resolved here, the Judge will set a timetable for evidence in preparation of a Final Hearing.

Final Hearing

Here the Court will review any further evidence and reports, as well as hear evidence from witnesses in order to come to a conclusion as to how the case should be resolved. An Order will be made, concluding the case.

Possible Court Orders include:

  • Child Arrangements Order - deciding where the child is to live and with whom. It also decides access and contact arrangements.
  • A Specific Issue Order - This is used to settle particular disputes where parents cannot agree on important issues such as schooling, medical treatment or religion.
  • A Prohibited Steps Order - an Order which prevents a parent from taking any course of action with their child (for example, taking the child out of the country) without the express consent of the Court.

How we can help

Our expert team of Family Law solicitors have the legal experience needed to guide you through such a difficult time and ensure that the best interests of your child are always at the heart of proceedings.

We offer both a tailored service and a fixed fee service dependent upon your needs. Call us today on 0800 689 1058 or use our online enquiry form and we will call you back. We also offer in-person consultations at our offices in Accrington, Blackburn, Chorley, Leeds, Manchester and Preston.

11 Jan 2019



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