If you need to make an application to court following a dispute about arrangements for a child or to obtain legal status for a child you will need to comply with the relevant legal process.
For an application in the county court, you will need to complete a court form (C100 plus form C1A if there has been violence, fear of violence or harm). You will need to pay the court fee when you issue the application in court. You will also need to include a short statement explaining the issues that need to be resolved.
Do I need court permission to apply?
You will not need the court’s permission to apply for an order in respect of a child if you are:
- A parent of the child
- A guardian or special guardian of a child
- A step-parent with parental responsibility
- An adult holding a residence order for a child
If you only wish to apply for a contact or residence order and you fall into one of the categories below you will not need to first obtain the court’s permission to apply:
- A step-parent (spouse or civil partner where the child has been a child of the family for 3 years)
- An adult with whom the child has lived for the last three years
- An adult who has obtained the consent of all other adults with parental responsibility or a residence order for the child
If you do not fall into one of the categories above, you will first need to obtain the permission of the court to apply for an order in respect of a child.
First court hearing
Following issue of the application, the court will list the case for a first court hearing (a conciliation appointment). This can take a number of weeks (perhaps 4 – 6 weeks) unless the application is urgent and issued on an emergency basis. The court will also send the court application to the other parties with a form for them to complete and return confirming they have received notice of the application.
At the hearing the judge will see if there is any scope for the parties to reach an agreement. If so, the judge can make an order on an agreed basis, If no agreement is possible, the judge will make directions to help determine and resolve the case, for example:
- order the parties to file detailed statements
- appoint a CAFCASS officer to prepare a report
- order interim contact arrangements
- list the case for a further directions hearing
It is also sometimes possible for the parties to meet with a specialist social worker (a Child and Family Reporter) in a private room and for the specialist social worker to then report back to the judge. This can sometimes help the parties reach agreement without the need for further court proceedings. This may also help the judge give the parties an indication about the sort of order the court would make at final hearing.
If the case is particularly complex or involves novel issues, the judge can decide to transfer the case to the High Court for determination.
If the judge directs the parties to file statements during the case, it is very important to ensure these are carefully prepared and set out the parties’ respective positions as strongly as possible. Your statement will typically stand as your ‘evidence in chief’ and it is an opportunity for you to explain the background, the problems and issues, your concerns, wishes and any proposed solutions.
Your statement will help the judge and the CAFCASS officer to understand your case and your position as a whole. In short, your statement will be an important tool in terms of the overall management and shape of your case. It therefore advisable to seek specialist legal advice in this regard.
If no agreement can be reached at the first hearing, the court will direct a CAFCASS Officer (a specialist social worker) to prepare an in-depth report to the court with recommendations to resolve the case. Whilst the report is not one hundred percent binding, the court is likely to place considerable weight upon it. The CAFCASS officer will meet with all the parties independently, the children and make independent checks.
This is a further court hearing where the parties have an opportunity to try and reach agreement in light of the CAFCASS report. If no agreement can be reached, then the court can make further directions (for example order expert evidence) or list the case for final hearing with a relevant time estimate depending upon the issues and complexity of the case.
At final hearing, the court will determine the outcome of the case. The judge will consider all of the evidence, including oral evidence from the parties in turn. It is recommended that you are legally represented by a barrister (together with a solicitor). Your barrister will ask you questions to help you present your case as strongly as possible. The other party’s barrister will then have an opportunity to cross-examine on relevant issues and events to help the court gather and evaluate the evidence and make a decision. The judge may also ask questions to help clarify any relevant matters. If one party is not legally represented, then the judge will often ask questions a barrister would otherwise have raised.
In giving judgment, the judge may retire for a short while to consider the evidence and make a decision before delivering this in court. If the case is particularly complex or the judge wants more time to prepare a judgment, he/she can reserve judgement and deliver this in court at a later date. If the case raises important or novel issues of law, then the judge can decide to publish the judgment on an anonymised basis to protect the identities of the children and adults involved.
The court may also list a further review hearing to check on progress and ensure that the arrangements are working well.
In cases involving children, it is rare for the court to make costs orders against a party to avoid ‘blame’. The court will only make a costs order in rare situations, for example where there has been a deliberate attempt to mislead the court or serious litigation misconduct.
If you are not eligible for public funding, you will need to pay privately for litigation and this can incur significant legal costs if the case is complex and requires numerous court hearings. It is therefore important to weigh up the benefit sought against the likely costs and consider alternative methods for resolving the case, to include mediation, collaborative law or round-table meetings with lawyers.
How we can help
If you would like to discuss your personal situation in more detail or a parenting and children issue please contact us by email email@example.com or by telephone +44 (0)207 222 1244.