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February 2016 has been a busy month for CAFCASS who have experienced a 10% compared to last year in new private law cases from 2,932 to 3,237 referrals. This is in stark contrast to the decline seen in 2014/15 when applications dropped by 27% on the previous year, with May 2014 being the lowest number of new cases received on record.

Who are they?

CAFCASS is short for ‘The Children and Family Court Advisory Service’.  They are an independent organisation which represents children in family court cases and ensures that the children’s voice is heard and decisions are taken in their best interests.

What are ‘private law’ cases?

This is a term used to refer to applications made following separation or divorce about the arrangements for children, such as where they will live and who they will spend time with.

What does the increase mean?

An increase in referrals means that more parents than ever are resorting to sorting out child arrangements through the Courts, rather than between themselves, via mediation or through solicitor correspondence. As a family lawyer this is concerning as it makes me wonder whether client’s are being given the right advice or whether their expectations are being managed appropriately. That being said, there are situations when an application to Court is entirely justified, for instance where contact is being denied and communication has broken down between parents.

Does CAFCASS always get involved?

CAFCASS will only become involved in a case at the request of the Court and after informing the parents/guardians. After this CAFCASS will carry out safeguarding checks with the Police and Local Authority and then conduct a telephone interview with both parties to see whether either has any concerns about the safety and welfare of the child(ren).

The CAFCASS officer will attend the first Court hearing to try and ascertain whether there are any areas of concern and to narrow the issues in dispute between the parties. After the hearing, the Court may direct CAFCASS to prepare a report regarding the child’s welfare, known as a ‘Section 7 report’. However it is the Court that makes the final decision after considering the evidence in the case, the CAFCASS report and the welfare checklist referred to in my previous blog ‘Madonna’s Mother’s Day Melancholy’.

What can you do if the current child arrangements are not working?

Family circumstances inevitably vary over time and the arrangements put in place five years ago may need to be reviewed and varied accordingly as your children increase in age. Unfortunately it is not possible for Courts to plan for every conceivable eventuality when making an Order. If your current child arrangements are not working then it is possible to vary these by consent, with the agreement of both parties or via Court proceedings.

At Gorvins we are committed to helping parents try to resolve their difficulties amicably without the requirement of Court proceedings where possible, but if this becomes necessary then we will strive to achieve the best outcome for a Client, always taking into account the child’s best interests. To discuss sorting out child arrangements with a member of our expert team, call us on 0343 507 5151 or email enquiries@gorvins.com.