If you are going through a divorce or separation and there are children involved, you may need to deal with the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, also referred to as CAFCASS.
The role of CAFCASS is to look after the interests of children during family law proceedings, usually when parents cannot agree between themselves how to share the care and responsibilities involved. The organisation also represents children during care proceedings and adoption.
CAFCASS provides information to the courts about children and their families as well as advice and recommendations.
When do CAFCASS get involved?
If parents are unable to make child arrangements when they separate and mediation is not successful, they may ask the court to make a ruling. In order to do this, the court will generally need background information about the family. It will ask CAFCASS to carry out checks and report back.
What do CAFCASS do?
CAFCASS will look at police and social work files to see whether the parents have been dealt with by either organisation. They will also speak to both parents to ask whether either of them has any concerns about the safety of the children. CAFCASS will then generally write a short ‘safeguarding letter’ to the court providing recommendations and points the courts may wish to look at.
Where there are concerns or the court wants more in-depth information, it can ask CAFCASS to prepare a report under section 7 of The Children Act 1989. This is a report containing full background information regarding the family and covering other key issues. It will take into account the child’s wishes and feelings, in the light of their age and understanding.
A CAFCASS officer will talk to both parents and may also speak to other individuals such as extended family members, teachers and health workers. They may speak to the children involved where they are old enough to communicate their thoughts.
CAFCASS will put forward their recommendations for new child arrangements in the report for the court.
If you are not happy with the contents of a CAFCASS report, it is open to you to raise this with the court.
How the court will decide
In reaching its decision, the court will always consider what it believes to be in the child’s best interests. It will also look at the points included on the standard welfare checklist, as follows:
- The child’s wishes and feelings, taking into account their age and understanding of the situation;
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The effect a change in circumstances is likely to have on the child;
- Their age, sex, background and any other relevant characteristic;
- Any risk of harm;
- The capability of the parents to meet the child’s needs;
- Any other relevant points.
The court will make an order setting out the arrangements it considers to be right for the child or children involved and both parents will be bound by the terms of this.
If you would like to speak to one of our expert family solicitors, ring us on 0345 241 3100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org