If the other parent is applying to court
The other parent may have told you they will take you to court or you may have received court papers. It’s important to understand what the court process might involve.
Before they’ve applied
Before the other parent can apply for a court order about your child arrangements, they must show they’ve attended a meeting about mediation, except in certain cases. This is called a MIAM or Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. The mediator will invite you to a meeting too.
There's usually a better outcome for children and parents if you can reach an agreement without going to court. So if there are no safety concerns, you should talk to the other parent about different options such as negotiation or professional mediation.
After they’ve applied
The court will send you the documents, including a ‘notice of proceedings’. You’ll need to respond within 14 days using a form C7.
The court will set a date for a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). It usually takes around 4 to 6 weeks after the application to get a date.
An advisor from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) will contact you and gather information before the first hearing.
The information includes:
- a social services and criminal record check on you and the other parent
- any concerns you and the other parent may have about the safety and welfare of your children
Going to court
You’ll have to attend court for any hearings. You can ask to appear in a different room in court from your ex-partner.
At the first hearing the judge will see if there’s still a chance you can reach an agreement with the other parent.
They may ask you to try again to reach an agreement, for example by going to a meeting with a mediator.
You may have to go on a course called a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’.
The court can ask Cafcass to provide a report on your case to help decide what’s best for the child. The Cafcass officer may ask your child about their feelings. You’ll get a copy of the report when it’s written.
If you cannot agree, there may be further court hearings that you need to attend and you may need to give evidence.
The judge or magistrate will always put the welfare of children first when making the decision about child arrangements. They will think about the:
- child’s wishes and feelings
- child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- effect any changes may have on the child
- child’s age, gender, characteristics and background
- possible risk of harm to the child
- ability of parents to meet the child’s needs
- orders the court has the power to make
It’s different for every family, but the court will usually try to make sure that children see both parents - unless there's a risk of violence or abuse. A court will only make an order if they think it’s in the best interests of the child.
You’ll have to stick to whatever the court decides - even if you don’t agree with it - unless you and your ex-partner both agree to changes.