Going to court regarding your children can be a daunting event whether you need to apply to court or have received court papers and ordered to attend. Court proceedings relating to children are governed by The Children Act 1989.
Children act proceedings are often categorised into private proceedings or public proceedings. Cases often have elements of both and can turn from one to the other. Public law cases often have involvement from the local authority children services. Private law proceedings generally do not have any involvement from the local authority.
AWD Law specialises in private law proceedings. The process of private law children act proceedings usually involve 3 court hearings.
The first court hearing is called the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). The first hearing is used to set the directions of the case. Ahead of the first hearing the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will conduct background check on the parties and speak to both parties to obtain their respective positions on the case. At the FHDRA directions will be set to progress the case, these directions may include ordering disclosure of police records relating to the parties, disclosure of GP records relating to the parties or having a Section 7 report carried out by CAFCASS. A Section 7 report may involve talking to the children to ascertain the children’s wishes and feelings, as well as establishing what is in the best interests of the children.
The next hearing is the Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). At this hearing the court should have all of the information requested at the previous directions hearing and a resolution may be able to be reached between the parties. If an agreement can be reached this will be written up into a court order. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the case will be listed for a final hearing.
At a final hearing parties will be required to give evidence at the hearing, which will usually be submitted by way of a written statement, as well as oral evidence in front of the court. Any experts in the case may also be called to give evidence. After the court has heard all the evidence then they will make a final decision. When the court is reaching a decision regarding children then it must take into account the welfare checklist. The welfare checklist has 7 statutory criteria. These are;
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision
- The child’s age, sex, backgrounds and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision
- Any harm the child has suffered or maybe at risk of suffering
- Capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs
- The powers available to the court in the given proceedings
Once a final order is reached it is a legally binding court order and should be followed. In addition to the above process, there can be additional hearings if further directions hearings or interim hearings are required to assist the case. Alternatively, the case may be streamlined and listed straight for a final hearing after the first hearing if the case is relatively straightforward.
Please contact AWD Law if you require assistance with children act proceedings and an appointment can be arranged for you to discuss your case with a solicitor in the team.
Written by: Alyciette Edwards – Solicitor
20 January 2021