How to deal with Cafcas – CAFCASS, or the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, is an organisation you will come across if you and your ex-partner are in dispute about contact arrangements for your children, and are unable to settle this outside of the courts.
Set up in 2001, CAFCASS works independently of the courts, social services, education and health authorities with the aim of safeguarding the welfare of children.
CAFCASS is used by the courts to provide an independent report and set of recommendations about child access and residence, which tends to hold a great deal of weight. In most cases unless a good reason can be given, the CAFCASS recommendation will be followed by the judge, so it is important to understand exactly how to deal with CAFCASS in order to gain an outcome that both you and your children are happy with.
How does CAFCASS work?
Once you and your ex-partner decide to go to court to settle child access arrangements and there are concerns raised about the children’s welfare, CAFCASS will begin the process of assessing your current situation and compiling a report to take to the courts. The contents and recommendations of this report cannot be disputed beforehand and will be sent to you merely for information – this is why understanding how to deal with CAFCASS as early as possible will stand you in good stead.
You will likely be invited to your local CAFCASS office where a CAFCASS Officer will conduct an extensive interview with you and your ex-partner separately. During this interview, you will be asked about your relationship with your ex-partner, your current arrangements and how you envisage the situation can be resolved for the benefit of your children. If your children are old enough, they will also be interviewed by the CAFCASS Officer to ascertain their wishes.
Following these interviews, a report will be produced, either a Wishes and Feelings Report, or a Section 7 Report. The Wishes and Feelings Report, provides a background of your case and the views expressed by your children. This may include any particular bias your children have to stay with one parent or another – the court must take these wishes into some consideration bearing in mind the child’s age and understanding.
The Section 7 Report is more comprehensive. This report goes into depth about the issues at hand, the reasons behind the wishes of your children, and the outcome of your meetings with the CAFCASS Officer. This report provides a set of recommendations, answering the question ‘should contact be allowed, and if so, how much?’
In general, the judge will take these recommendations and apply them to your case, placing value on the independently produced report that in theory presents an unbiased view, centred around what is in the best interests of your children. Therefore it is imperative to deal with CAFCASS in a savvy manner in order to boost your chances of a favourable outcome.
Pointers for Dealing with CAFCASS
When dealing with CAFCASS, you need to ensure that your side of the story comes across as coherently as possible, focussing on your wishes for contact. The following recommendations will help stand you in good stead:
- Be respectful and pleasant – try to be sensitive to the fact that the CAFCASS Officer is likely very busy. Showing some level of understanding towards them will show good character and present you in a favourable light.
- Don’t use your CAFCASS meeting as an opportunity to stick the knife in to your ex-partner. Instead, present your answers in a clear and concise way to avoid coming across as overly angry. If you do appear too aggressive, this may be counted as a negative against you, based on the impact it may have on your children.
- Stand by your beliefs, but try to articulate them in a measured way. A factual rather than overly emotional approach is best – ensuring you fight your corner but in a reasonable, level-headed way.
- Try to be natural – the CAFCASS Officer will also observe you in your home with your children. It is obvious when a parent is being unnatural, so try to act as you would normally with your children.
- Facing CAFCASS may seem daunting, but with the right guidance there is no reason why you should not have the best chance possible of achieving contact arrangements that are in the interests of your children. A McKenzie Friend can help provide moral support as well as practical advice during this difficult time, allowing you to feel more confident and at ease.