Do CAFCASS favour mothers?
When parents are divorcing or separating, the issue that often causes most disagreement and argument is how will both parents have the amount of contact with their children that they want? If the parents can’t agree and it is left to the courts to decide, CAFCASS will be asked to produce a report and recommendations to guide the judge when he or she makes the decision.
So, this CAFCASS recommendation is a very important and influential report, but will it be fair to both parents? Do CAFCASS favour mothers? What if they don’t take my views properly into account?
We will explain how the CAFCASS process works in this article and what the report focuses on. We also have some suggestions for how to agree things without having to go through this process.
What do CAFCASS do?
CAFCASS is the Children And Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Its only role is to advise the family court where they are deciding a case involving children. In divorce cases, this is usually how much time the children will spend with each parent, on which days and where they will live.
Who puts the report together?
The CAFCASS staff who pull the reports together are known as Children and Family Reporters. They work on the court’s orders and they report back to the court on what they consider is in the child(ren)’s best interests.
The Children and Family Reporters are trained social workers, although their qualifications are generally not as extensive as social workers who work for Social Services.
How do CAFCASS decide what goes in the report?
The Reporters largely base their report around the interviews they carry out. They will speak to both parents, probably separately, and these interviews can be quite intensive. As a matter of course, they will check the Child Protection Register and see if there are any police records in respect of any of the people involved with the child(ren). This is part of their standard procedure and does not imply that they suspect there might be anything wrong.
They will also want to speak to the child(ren) involved if they are old enough to take part to ask them how they are feeling about the situation. It is important to emphasise that the child(ren) will not be asked to decide between one of you or the other. But the Reporter is making recommendations about the arrangements they think are going to be in the child(ren)’s best interests.
Are CAFCASS biased in favour of the mother?
No. CAFCASS are instructed to write the report to assist the court in making its decision. You may be wondering is there CAFCASS advice for mothers? What about CAFCASS advice for fathers? The fact is that courts are not in favour of the mother or father, and not against the father or mother, and therefore neither are CAFCASS. Their duty is to treat the welfare of the child(ren) involved as paramount and to look after the welfare of the child(ren) as much as possible.
However, the nature of court proceedings around custody are among the most emotive of all issues. At least one of the parents often ends up feeling aggrieved, or that they’ve had a “rough deal”. A quick search on the Internet for people’s experiences with CAFCASS reports will reveal many stories from men and many from women feeling they’ve come out of the process hard done by as a result of the report.
It is not unusual for people unhappy with the outcome of a CAFCASS report to suspect that their child(ren) have been turned against them by their former partner – sometimes known as parental alienation. Although sometimes this might happen, it is easy to forget how much children are affected and upset at their parents breaking up and, more importantly, be seen to be constantly fighting over the children. They often feel caught up in the crossfire.
Does the court have to follow CAFCASS recommendations?
Not necessarily – although they do rely heavily on the recommendations in the report. After all, the court has instructed CAFCASS as ‘experts’ to complete the report.
Having said that, it is acknowledged that the reports aren’t perfect in every case. Although the parents do not get to see and “approve” the report in advance, they will be given a copy of it, often very close to the court hearing date. If you object to elements of the report, you (or your solicitor) will need to raise your concerns with the judge in court and try and persuade the judge to disregard the contentious elements of the report and possibly make a different decision. This can be very daunting to do, particularly when something as important as your contact arrangements with your children are involved.
Is there any alternative to a CAFCASS report?
If your case is decided through the courts, the court will always ask for a report to guide it. They will usually ask CAFCASS, or sometimes Social Services if they have already been involved with the family, or occasionally another agency, perhaps if CAFCASS do not have sufficient capacity to do the report.
A CAFCASS (or similar) report is only ordered if your case is being decided in the courts. So, the best way to avoid a CAFCASS report is to agree child arrangements with your ex-partner without going to court. The best way to do this is very often through mediation.
When you arrange mediation through Direct Mediation Services, you can be confident that your mediator will be expert, accredited and experienced. Mediation can help your ex-partner and you reach a fair and balanced agreement about how your child(ren) can continue to have a balanced relationship with both of you. Before people start mediation, they often wonder how it can possibly work because the two of you can never discuss things without it ending up in a chaotic argument. The mediator is like a referee between the two of you, making sure you both keep to the rules and keep you on track talking about the things that really matter – your child(ren).
This is exactly what CAFCASS focus on. The difference with mediation is that you jointly decide what is best for your child(ren) – not a third party. Your ex-partner will understand what is important to you and what you need from them, and similarly you will understand what your ex-partner is worried about and what you need to do to put their mind more at rest. The end result is that your child(ren) usually end up having a better and happier relationship with both of you.
We can also arrange for a mediator who is specially qualified to work with children. If your child(ren) are involved in the mediation process, they will never be asked to choose between you, but they will be able to say, confidentially, what they feel about the situation and the sort of outcome they would be happy with. Your child(ren) will only be involved if both you and your ex-partner agree. The child or children also have to agree themselves to attend.
CAFCASS do not have to be involved in deciding your child(ren)’s future. Going through the courts to resolve child custody arrangements is always a costly, lengthy (sometimes taking years), expensive and stressful process and should be the very last resort. We strongly advise you to try and sort out your child custody arrangements without having to go to court. Mediation is often the best way to do this. You are also much more likely to understand why the agreements you have reached are reasonable, fair and acceptable. But most importantly, you can be more confident that what you have decided is in the best interests of those who matter – your child(ren).
Talk to us. One of our experienced and friendly team will explain how we can help with your child contact arrangements. We can help you agree things with your ex-partner – and the courts and CAFCASS do not have to get involved.
You can call Direct Mediation Services on 0113 4689593, email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the form below for a free call back.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Do CAFCASS favour mothers?
No. CAFCASS (and the courts) are impartial and do not take sides. However, they have to make difficult judgements in the child(ren)’s best interests. Parents sometimes are not happy with the outcomes and often think that they have been badly treated by the report. But this is not the result of bias.
Do I have to pay if CAFCASS get involved?
No. CAFCASS are instructed by and advise the court to help them make a decision. Parents are not charged for CAFCASS involvement.
What happens if I don’t agree with the CAFCASS report?
The CAFCASS report contains recommendations to the court. It is therefore a very influential report. The court will usually follow the CAFCASS recommendations, but they do not have to. If there is something in the CAFCASS that you do not agree with, you (or your solicitor) can explain to the judge at the hearing why you think the report is wrong and ask him/her to make a different decision. Remember you might not see the report until very shortly before the court hearing.
Whose side are CAFCASS on?
CAFCASS are not on the side of one parent or the other. Their focus is only on the welfare of the child(ren) and they make their recommendations to the court about what arrangements are in the best interests of the child(ren) to help the court make its decision.
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