The Court Procedure - the Child Arrangements Programme
There is a general rule that before anyone can make an application to the court in respect of a child they must first have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to consider if mediation would be a good process for them to try and resolve the issues over their children. This does not mean they have to undertake mediation, but they usually have to have at least considered it. There are exceptions to this rule, for example, urgency or where there is domestic violence.
In our local area, unless a party is eligible for public funding (legal aid) mediators usually charge between £100 and £150 for a MIAM. For our views on mediation please follow the link to Mediation.
A very simple outline is
- The Applicant files and serves the application in Form C100 plus any relevant supplements: a Court fee of £215 is payable.
- The Court fixes a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) to take place within the next 4 to 6 weeks
- At the FHDRA the Court will consider
- to what extent the parties 'can safely resolve some or all of the issues with the assistance of the Cafcass officer and any available mediator';
- 'risk identification followed by active case management';
- ordering them to file statements of their evidence;
- ordering a Cafcass officer to file a report - either a full report or a shortened version;
- making some interim arrangements, for example, for one parent to spend time with the child; and
- settling the timescale for the rest of the case.
- If ordered by the court, the Cafcass officer will interview the parties and make any other enquiries and will file a report; this may take about 3 months.
- If ordered by the court, the Cafcass officer may see the children to find out their ‘ascertainable wishes and feelings’ – see the checklist above.
- About 2 weeks later there will be a Directions Resolution Appointment to review the case at this stage in the hope of promoting an agreed outcome or to enable the Judge to determine any narrow issues between the parties.
- A further 2 weeks or so later the Final Hearing itself, if there is no agreement.
Many parents reach a final agreement at the FHDRA.
Cafcass stands for Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Its website is at www.Cafcass.gov.uk. It is an under-resourced and over-stretched organisation. There are various local initiatives in place designed to dispose of cases more quickly where possible; this has resulted in some local practices and departures from the basic outline set out here.