Guide to Children Proceedings
This guide is designed to take you through court proceedings in relation to children from start to finish. It concentrates on the ‘Applicant’ who is the person applying to the court for an order.
Understanding the terminology
Court proceedings involving children are full of words and phrases that are rarely used day-today, and can cause confusion.
Set out below are the most common words and phrases that you will need to understand in the court process.
The Applicant – The person who is applying to the court for an order.
The Respondent – The other parent who will be responding to the application.
Mediation – A process whereby you and the other parent will try and settle the dispute out of court with an independent mediator. If mediation is unsuccessful, the mediator will issue you a ‘MIAM form’ (see below), allowing you to proceed with a court application.
MIAM Form – The form you need before you can send an application to court. This is given to you by a mediator after you have attempted Mediation. If you do not believe mediation is possible or appropriate, it is possible to obtain the MIAM form from the mediator without actually attending a mediation session. There are also exceptions meaning you do not need the MIAM form at all, and you can proceed to make a court application without one. We would advise if one of these exceptions apply.
Child Arrangements Order – An order that regulates how much time a child spends with you. This can include time spent in normal ‘term time’ whilst the children are at school, but also time over holidays, birthdays and Christmases.
Prohibited Steps Order – An order from the court preventing a parent from doing a certain act, for example taking the children abroad. This is a restriction on the parent’s parental responsibility.
Specific Issue Order – An order asking the court to decide on a specific dispute between the parents that they cannot agree on, for example a child’s surname.
Cafcass – An independent service employed by the court who may be asked to prepare a report on the case, and make recommendations to the court. Please see further detail below.
The Process of making a court application
How do I start the process?
There are many reasons why you might want to apply to the court for an order. It could be for example because the other parent is not allowing the children to spend as much time with you as you would like. It could also be a narrower dispute, for example wanting to change the child’s name, or to move the child to a different school.
It is a court requirement to attend mediation before making an application. You and the other parent would sit with an independent mediator (not necessarily in the same room) and try and resolve your dispute without involving the court. If this is unsuccessful you will be given a MIAM form by the mediator, and you will send this MIAM form to the court when you make your application.
Please note there are exceptions in place where you do not have to attend mediation before making an application. We would advise if an exception applies.
Sending the application to Court
Once you have attended and obtained the MIAM form, or an exception applies, you can prepare your court application. What court form you need to complete depends on what application you are making but most applications start with completing a C100 form. There is a court fee of £215. You will send three copies of your application form, the court fee and the MIAM form to the court nearest to where the children live.
Upon receiving your application, the court will issue court proceedings and send a copy of all paperwork to the other parent. This means they will see whatever you wrote on the application form.
Stage 1- First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment
The court will list a ‘First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment’ or FHDRA for short. Cafcass will be asked to complete safeguarding checks. This will mean that they telephone you, and the Respondent in the proceedings and discuss the court application with you both separately. They will want to know more about the dispute, why the application has been made and ascertain if there are any concerns that they may need to investigate further. Cafcass will then send a letter called a Safeguarding Letter to the court outlining their discussions with you and the Respondent, and what their recommendations are for the case going forward. This letter will be reviewed at the court hearing. The court will then consider the recommendations made by Cafcass, and your responses and make directions for the case going forward. If Cafcass want to investigate the case further, then the court may order that Cafcass produce a Section 7 report. This will involve Cafcass meeting with you and the Respondent in person, to investigate the concerns in more detail. A full report will be prepared, and disclosed to the parties and the court before the next hearing.
Stage 2- Dispute Resolution Appointment
The second hearing is the Dispute Resolution Appointment or ‘DRA’. At this hearing the court will review the progress of the case so far and if Cafcass has been ordered to produce a Section 7 Report, this report will also be considered. It may be that an agreement can be reached by the parents and if so, the case could conclude at this second hearing. Whether this is possible or not depends entirely on what issues if any remain in the case, and if Cafcass need to do any further investigating. If an agreement cannot be reached, the case can be relisted for a Final Hearing.
Stage 3- Final Hearing
This hearing will be listed if there is no agreement to conclude the proceedings at the DRA. Final hearings can last a full day or more, although it is important to note that most cases conclude before this point and do not reach the Final Hearing stage. At the end of the Final Hearing, if still no agreement can be reached between the parents, then the court will make a final order that will conclude the proceedings.
The above is a broad outline of a Children Act court application. The above information is not fixed and there are always exceptions and cases that will deviate from the above. The above guide is to help you see the usual general path of court proceedings from start to finish. It does not pretend to solve all problems and issues that could arise in the court proceedings, and it may be that you need specialist legal advice on your case.
Contact a Child Proceedings Solicitor
We are specialists in all areas of Family Law. This advice may be sufficient for you to continue to deal with your matter or, you may decide that you wish to be represented or continue to receive advice and assistance and we will be to discuss the options we can offer you. If you would like advice on issues relating to any children matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Children Matters Team or get in touch on 020 8492 2290.