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Can The Family Court Order Any Support To Promote Contact Arrangements?

View profile for Wendy Parks
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If there is no agreement between parents as to the contact arrangements with a child or children, an application can be made to the Court for a child arrangements order under the Children Act 1989.  The Court may seek to regulate a child's living arrangements by making such an order.

The Court has the power to order various forms of contact whether direct or indirect, supervised or unsupervised, whether there should be overnight stays or not, whether contact should be in a contact centre or elsewhere, and there are a variety of ways in which the Family Court can support any such contact arrangements between a child[ren] and a parent.

Orders are usually made on the basis of recommendations from Cafcass, whose Family Court Advisers guide the court on matters of safeguarding and welfare.  Cafcass are also known as family court reporters, or reporting officers, or court welfare officers.  Cafcass are instructed by a Court to investigate issues and report to the Court but they can in some circumstances, provide supervision and assistance to parents.

Even where Court proceedings are necessary however, both parents are always encouraged to try and come to an agreement if possible for the benefit of the child[ren] and support is provided where possible.  This article provides a brief guide to some of the most common forms of support afforded to parents by the Court.

Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) and/or Mediation

The SPIP is a short course completed by each parent separately to each other. It is commonly recommended by Cafcass and ordered by the Court. It is different to mediation which can also be ordered by the Court to help parents communicate with each other. 

The SPIP is designed to help parents to consider ways to communicate effectively about their children following separation. In particular, it looks at how conflict between parents can impact children. Cafcass and the Court will often advise parents in private children cases that constructive communication is central.  A specialist family lawyer can advise on communicating in a productive way within the circumstances of your own case.

Improving Child and Family Arrangements

This is a service designed by Cafcass. It involves professionals working with the family on a short-term basis in difficult cases.  The work involved will depend on the individual family but can involve meeting with parents individually and together, working with the children directly and observing contact.

A referral can only be made by Cafcass if it is Court ordered. This means that the Court must consider that it is in the best interests of the child. It will likely only be ordered in a minority of cases due to the limited resources of Cafcass and its regional providers. Parties must have been ordered to attend the Separated Parents Information Programme before the Court can order work under Improving Child and Family Arrangements.

In some cases, a Children's Guardian can be appointed who will hear the voice of the child[ren] and act accordingly and on their behalf.

Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme

This is a course commonly ordered after domestic abuse has been admitted or has been found at a fact-finding hearing. The party attending the course will need to undergo an assessment first to see whether they are suitable to attend the course. This often requires accepting any findings made against them.

However, there are further courses designed which can help prepare parties for the Domestic Abuse Perpetrators Programme where they do not yet accept the findings. Again, Cafcass will only made a referral following a Court order. The course aims to help parents who have perpetrated domestic abuse to alter and address any such behaviour. This should give the Court reassurance that contact of any child or children with that parent will be safer, depending upon the progress made during the programme.

Family Assistance Order

This requires a Cafcass officer or an officer of the local authority such as a social worker to advise, assist and (where appropriate) befriend any person named in the order. It may be made alongside an order for contact or child arrangements and Cafcass ordered to assist with establishing or maintaining contact. They may also be required to report back to the Court on whether an order should be varied or discharged. The Court cannot make this order without the consent of everyone named in the order apart from the child. The Court will require input from Cafcass or the local authority about the suitability of such an order.

As with all the forms of support listed in this article, specialist legal advice will be required on the best approach to any one case.  No two cases are the same, and there will always be different circumstances to consider.

Parenting courses

If seeking contact, or any form of arrangements surrounding children, it is always sensible to consider what steps can be taken to demonstrate commitment to a child-focused approach. A parenting course is another tool to achieve this. Parenting courses can be undertaken independently by a parent, online or in person.  There are numerous organisations which can assist in such parenting courses. This is likely to turn on the nature and severity of the issues in your case. A legal expert will advise as to whether this is suitable for your case and guidance as to which organisations to approach.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.