Louise Walker looks at the court process if an application is made to the court about a dispute or concern about a child.
Welcome to Weightmans. I am Louise Walker, a partner in our national team of family solicitors, we are here to help you. This is one of the series of q and a podcasts that we have produced for parents, to help them resolve disputes about their children on or after relationship breakdown.
What is the process if a court application is brought?
Today we are looking at the court process if an application is made to the court about a dispute or concern about a child.
Bringing a court application
If agreement cannot be reached you need to consider your options in respect of a court application, so that you can make a fully informed decision as to whether this process is in your child's best interest. We discuss alternatives to court in a separate podcast.
What is a MIAM?
Before a court application can be made, save an urgent situation, you must attend a mediation information and assessment meeting; a MIAM. This is to explore first whether mediation can assist in your circumstances, and if appropriate the other parent of the child may be prepared to attend mediation to try to reach an amicable agreement.
What is the court procedure?
If mediation is not pursued and you decide to issue proceedings, you will need to complete an application form setting out what order you wish to apply for and brief details of the issues. You will have to pay a court fee.
Once the application is issued by the court it will have to be served on the other parent, so that they know about the court hearing and the applications you have made. They can respond with an acknowledgement of service form or might make a cross application for an order in their own favour.
If your case is urgent, you may need to make an emergency application to the court. The court will determine the degree of urgency and how quickly to list the first hearing.
CAFCASS, the court welfare service, will undertake relevant safeguarding checks with the relevant agencies including criminal record checks, before the first hearing.
The first hearing is called a First-Hand Dispute Resolution Appointment (FRDRA). You will need to attend the hearing personally with your legal representative.
At this hearing the judge and the CAFCASS officer will consider your case and try to assist you in reaching a compromise. If this is not successful, the Judge will consider what further information is required in order to reach a solution and may order you to prepare a statement setting out your case or that the CAFCASS officer visits you and your children in order to prepare a report on what might be the best outcome for the child.
There are procedural measures which the court will adopt specifically for domestic or other abuse cases to safeguard you and the children through the court process.
Where there are differing views about the facts of the case which are fundamental to the court's decision as to what is in the best interest of the children, the court may order a fact finding hearing. This allows the court to determine on the value of the probability the factual background before it goes on to decide with whom your child should live or spend time with.
The court may require additional expert evidence such as psychologist reports or a drug or alcohol test, depending on the individual circumstances of the case. Dispute resolution hearing. Once all the information has been obtained, a dispute resolution hearing will be listed by the court to consider the case further.
If agreement is still not possible, another court hearing will be listed. The judge will make a decision at the final hearing, usually after hearing evidence from all terms.
Thank you for listening, if I or any of my colleagues in Weightmans family law team can help further, please get in touch. You will find our details at the end of this podcast. When you need support with a family dispute, we'll look to resolve it sensitively yet robustly through constructive communication. We will always help you to search for solutions which reduce conflict and costs whether your case requires complex mitigation or a non-court-based approach.