When do CAFCASS get involved?
If you are in the process of divorcing or separating and finding it difficult to agree child arrangements between you and your ex-partner, you might have heard CAFCASS mentioned.
But who are CAFCASS? When do CAFCASS get involved? Is this something I need to be worried about?
This article will explain who CAFCASS are, what it might mean for you and how you can agree arrangements for your children without involving CAFCASS.
So, who are CAFCASS?
CAFCASS stands for Children And Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Ministry of Justice. Its job is to advise family courts about what, in their opinion, is in the child’s best interests when the court has to make decisions about arrangements affecting the child – for example, how much time they spend with each parent after divorce or separation and where they will live.
Read more about who are CAFCASS in our blog.
Why do CAFCASS get involved?
CAFCASS only get involved if your case goes to court. It is not your decision to get CAFCASS involved or not. Their only job is to give independent, impartial advice to the court to help them make a ruling that is in the child’s best interests.
Aren’t they just the same as social services?
No. People sometimes get confused about how social services are different to CAFCASS. The job of social services is to protect children against all forms of harm in any aspects of life. They also give the same protection to vulnerable adults. Social services can get involved without the need for court proceedings.
There is a similarity between social services and CAFCASS, in that both have a clear focus on the wellbeing and interests of the child.
However, the role of CAFCASS is only to give support to the court once proceedings – for example, about child custody – have started. Their involvement might slow down court proceedings if they do not have enough workers to cope with all the demands placed on them by the courts.
How can we prevent things going to court?
Going to court is nearly always very stressful. If you are finding it difficult to agree with your ex-partner on how to make arrangements that will mean your children continue to see both of you, the best way is often through mediation. Direct Mediation Services expert and experienced mediators can help you and your ex come to a fair and reasonable agreement – even when direct discussions between both of you always seem to descend into chaos and arguments. Our mediators will help you focus on what will actually be in the best interests of your children – just as CAFCASS would do. And what’s more, it will be a lot cheaper, quicker and less stressful than having to go through the courts.
We even have mediators who are specially qualified to mediate with children if you both agree that your child should have more of a direct say in how much time they would like to spend with each of you moving forward.
What do CAFCASS investigate?
You may have heard about CAFCASS safeguarding checks. If the courts are having to make a ruling on custody arrangements for your children, CAFCASS will firstly carry out safeguarding checks concerning your children. So, what do CAFCASS look for? They will check criminal and police records of those involved and check whether the family is already known to social services.
They will also talk to you and your ex-partner and any other adults involved in the case to see if anyone has any safeguarding concerns about the children, or any worries about their welfare or safety.
CAFCASS will then write a ‘safeguarding letter’ for the court. This will advise the court of any special reports they might need to order at the first hearing. For example, this could be medical records, police or social services reports.
If no safeguarding or welfare concerns have been raised, CAFCASS might work with both parents to try to come to an agreement at the first hearing. However, if things are not settled at this stage, the court could ask CAFCASS to prepare a full and detailed report, known as a Section 7 report. This will come up with recommendations to the court about exactly what arrangements would be in the children’s best interests. CAFCASS will have more involved discussions with the both parents and any other adults involved. They might also decide they need to speak directly with the children as well.
The Section 7 report conclusions are recommendations only. The court will make the final decision and ruling.
Sometimes, if the family is already known to social services, the court might instruct social services to produce the Section 7 report instead of CAFCASS.
Having child custody arrangements resolved through the courts is inevitably going to be a lengthy, costly, stressful and expensive process so it is always strongly advisable to try to sort out your differences without going to court. Mediation is one of the most effective ways of achieving this and make sure that you and your ex-partner make agreements about custody of your children that are fair, reasonable and acceptable for all parties – you, your ex-partner, but most of all, your children.
If this does not prove possible and the courts have to make the decisions for you, the role of CAFCASS is to advise the court whether they need to consider any safeguarding or welfare issues in respect of the children and what arrangements would be in the children’s best interests.
They will make background checks, interview you, your ex-partner, any other adults involved in the case, and possibly the children themselves to reach their conclusions and make their recommendations to the court. It is for the court and not CAFCASS to make the final decisions though.
Want to known more about family mediation?
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Frequently Asked Questions
Why do CAFCASS get involved?
CAFCASS get involved in cases involving children which are going before the courts. Their job is to advise the court to help them make their decisions in the children’s best interests.
Who pays when CAFCASS get involved?
CAFCASS is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and so none of the participants involved have to pay for their involvement.
What do I have to do to get CAFCASS involved?
CAFCASS are automatically involved to produce a safeguarding report at the beginning of any family court case involving children. Any further involvement is ordered by the court. So, the parents involved in the case do not have any say in CAFCASS involvement.
Whose side are CAFCASS on?
CAFCASS are there to give impartial advice to the family court in cases involving children. They only report on what in their opinion is in the children’s best interest. They do not work on behalf of any of the adults involved in the case.
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