The court will arrange a ‘directions hearing’ with both parents if you apply for a court order.
There will usually be a family court adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) at the hearing.
Cafcass will send you information before the hearing - they’ll usually ring you too.
At the hearing, a judge or magistrate will try to work out:
- what you can agree
- what you can’t agree
- if your child is at risk in any way
They’ll encourage you to reach an agreement if it’s in the child’s best interests. If you can, and there are no concerns about the child’s welfare, the judge or magistrate can end the process.
The court will make a consent order which sets out what you’ve agreed, if necessary.
If you can’t agree at the first court hearing
The judge or magistrate will set a timetable for what happens next.
They may ask you to try again to reach an agreement, eg by going to a meeting with a mediator.
You may have to go on a course if your case is about contact issues. The course is called a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’, and could help you find a way to make contact arrangements work.
You usually have to go to 2 meetings. Your ex-partner won’t be at the same meetings as you.
If you reach an agreement at any stage, the judge or magistrate can stop the process.
The court can ask Cafcass to provide a report on your case to help decide what’s best for the child.
The Cafcass officer may ask your child about their feelings. You’ll get a copy of the report when it’s written.
What judges and magistrates consider
They’ll always put the welfare of children first. They will think about the:
- child’s wishes and feelings
- child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- effect any changes may have on the child
- child’s age, gender, characteristics and background
- possible risk of harm to the child
- ability of parents to meet the child’s needs
- orders the court has the power to make
A judge or magistrate will only make an order if they think it’s in the child’s best interests.