Published on February 14, 2023

Cafcass stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Cafcass is separate from the Court Service itself but provides expertise to the Court when required. When a child application is made to the Court, Cafcass will initially undertake a safeguarding check on the parents – which includes a criminal records check. They will usually try and speak to both parents and then provide a short report to the Court on any issues which arise. This article addresses the question, can i change Cafcass officer?

At the First hearing, a Cafcass Officer (who will have a social work background) will meet with both parents and make recommendations to the Court for the next steps. If no issues emerge which create a concern about the children’s welfare, then it is likely that Cafcass will have no ongoing involvement in the proceedings before the Court.

If however, issues do arise which affect the welfare of the children, then the Court can order that Cafcass prepare a report on the issues and make recommendations to the Court about the most appropriate arrangements for the children. These recommendations will have a significant influence on the eventual outcome of the application.

The Cafcass Officer is appointed by the Court. It is not possible to change the Cafcass Officer because you do not agree with the conclusions they have reached. If you do not agree with the recommendations that the Cafcass Officer has made it is possible to challenge their conclusions in the Court.

If you have a concern about a Cafcass Officer’s performance or conduct whilst undertaking their duties Cafcass have a complaints procedure and there is a useful fact sheet on their website at www.cafcass.co.uk. However, it will still be the decision of Cafcass or of the Court as to whether a Cafcass Officer’s performance or conduct is such that they should be removed from the case.

In some cases where the issues are complicated and the Cafcass Officer has been unhelpful, it may be possible to ask the Court to make the children a party to the proceedings. If that order is made, the Court will appoint a guardian. The guardian also comes from Cafcass however the guardian’s role is to represent the children’s position and can therefore provide an alternative view to that of the Cafcass Officer.

You can read more here about Cafcass and the family courts and here is a link to the Cafcass website.

Mark Leeson contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101’, 3rd edition, (Bath Publishing, 2023).

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Going Through Family Court

What happens when we go through the family court? At every family court hearing, all parties should be given a chance to have their say before any decisions are made, but the judge will need to focus everyone on the things s/he needs to hear about in order to make a decision. Before the majority of cases come before a family court, forms will have been filled in which gives the judge the basics of each case. Questions will be asked during the hearing and you or your legal representation will be expected to answer all questions calmly and as accurately as possible.

Decision Making When Going Through Family Courts

Family courts reach final decisions over a period of time. Sometimes a judge will need to postpone dealing with some issues and just deal with part of the dispute at one hearing, perhaps because some information is missing or there isn’t time. Court hearings should proceed on the basis that everyone, including the judge, has seen in advance all the paperwork relied upon by any party. There are various types of hearing and if you are going through the family courts it would be sensible to familiarise yourself with the type of hearing you will be attending. Directions hearings, for example, are shorter hearings and are really there to get the case ready for a hearing where a full decision will be made. Another hearing you may want to read more about is a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). This refers to the first hearing in connection with an application about children (for example a dispute about where children should live), at which the court will consider safeguarding checks on the family and will attempt to resolve the matter or identify the range of dispute if this is not possible. This hub has a lot of material on family courts and what you can expect there. There are informative articles on CAFCASS and how they are appointed and advise a court in your case. We recommend careful reading of all this material as family courts are different and work in ways that you may not be used to.

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