This article was co-written by Ali Granville (Associate).
I haven’t seen my daughter for over three years. She’s 13 and lives with her Mum. I want to see her again but her Mother has always refused. Where do I start?
You should start by attempting to discuss with your daughter’s Mother why she is not letting you see your daughter. If it is possible to resolve outstanding issues, an informal Agreement or Parenting Plan can be drawn up and signed by you confirming contact arrangements and your commitment to joint parenting and acting in your daughter’s best interests. CAFCASS have some useful resources on Parenting Plans that you may wish to refer to.
Support can also be accessed from family solicitors, mediators, counsellors and therapists at this early stage and throughout if you require assistance with drafting or resolving particularly ‘knotty’ issues.
You should start by attempting to discuss with your daughter’s Mother why she is not letting you see your daughter.
The positives of coming to an informal agreement include reduced costs and stress. Court proceedings are expensive and can result in your relationship with your daughter’s mother worsening, so agreement is good! The main disadvantage of an informal agreement is that they are not enforceable, so if the contact breaks down without good reason the only way to get it re started would be to commence an application at that stage in the way explained below.
The fact that you have not seen your daughter for 3-years would suggest that there are some serious issues that cannot be resolved between you and your daughter’s mother and that an application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order (‘CAO’) is required to enable you to see your daughter. You may wish to instruct a family solicitor at this stage who will be able to advise you on an application and likely costs based on the circumstances of your case.
Before you can file an application at Court, you must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) facilitated by an independent mediator to see whether mediation could help in your matter. Your daughter’s mother will also be invited to attend a MIAM, although you do not have to attend this initial meeting together. You can refer yourself to a mediator and do not need a solicitor to do this for you.
If agreement is reached but a CAO is needed because of previous issues with contact, the application can proceed with your daughter’s Mothers’ consent. If agreement cannot be reached, your application will proceed on a contested basis. The application must be made on Form C100 and Supplemental Form C1A must be completed where it is alleged that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering from domestic abuse or violence.
The first Court hearing is called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). In Court, the judge hears submissions in relation to the dispute and in collaboration with the CAFCASS officer (and the mediator), he assists the parties in conciliation and resolution of the dispute, taking into account any safeguarding issues that have been identified in relation to your daughter. If agreement is reached on all issues at the FHDRA, the judge can grant a consent order in the terms agreed and conclude the proceedings. However, no order will be made without the Court closely considering it. The Court does not simply rubber stamp terms agreed between the parties: the child’s welfare is the Court’s paramount consideration (section 1(1), Children Act 1989).
Where no final agreement is reached, the Court will give case management directions, which can include filing and service of further evidence and reports and requesting that your daughter attends Court. Your daughter is of an age where her personal views will be an important factor in determining what contact there should be. You should be clear following the FHDRA what steps need to be completed by you and/or your solicitor in advance of the next hearing, the Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). The DRA is another opportunity for you and your daughter’s Mother to come to an agreement with the Court’s assistance and can be used as Final Hearing. If there is no agreement at the DRA, your case will proceed to a Final Hearing where the Court will decide on an appropriate CAO with reference to all relevant factors with your daughter’s welfare being paramount.
Posted on May 3, 2018