So your ex has stopped you from seeing the children or is making decisions which you disagree with. They refuse to communicate and so you have no choice but to seek legal advice and apply for a court order.
What is it?
Firstly, we need to take a step back. In the UK, applications for care orders will not been heard unless mediation has been attempted. It is a legal requirement, the aim of which was to reduce the volume of applications going to court. Sadly, if you are dealing with a hostile ex mediation will not work. Mainly because (much like co-parenting) it requires them to cooperate and negotiate. Narcissists don’t negotiate. They have a “my way or no way” attitude and so invariably you will have your C100 signed off giving you permission to apply to the court.
Child court order (or Child Arrangement Orders) have replaced residency and contact orders. They decide:
- where your child lives
- when your child spends time with each parent
- when and what other types of contact take place (phone calls, for example)
As long as you have PR, you can apply for a CAO. In order to apply you must follow these steps to apply for a court order.
- Read guidance CB001 on making an application.
- Fill in the C100 court form. You must show you’ve attended a meeting about mediation first – except in certain cases (there’s been domestic abuse, for example).
- Send the original form and 3 copies of it to the nearest court that deals with cases involving children.
It costs £215 to apply for a court order. After you apply for a court order, the court will arrange a ‘directions hearing’ with both parents if you apply for a court order (known as a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment or FHDRA)
There will usually be a family court adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) at the hearing. Before the first hearing Cafcass will do
- Safeguarding checks: they carry out checks with the police and the local authority to find out whether there are any known safety or welfare risks to your children.
- Telephone interview: In most cases, they will phone you and the other party to find out if either of you have any concerns about the safety and welfare of your children. You are unlikely to have a home visit before the first hearing. Only people who are parties to the case will be interviewed.
- Safeguarding letter: At least three days before the first hearing Cafcass will provide the court with a short report on the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues raised in the telephone interviews with you and the other party.
At the hearing, a judge or magistrate will try to work out:
- what you can agree
- what you cannot agree
- if your child is at risk in any way
They’ll encourage you to reach an agreement if it’s in the child’s best interests. If you can, and there are no concerns about the child’s welfare, the judge or magistrate can end the process.
The court will make a consent order which sets out what you’ve agreed, if necessary.
If you cannot agree at the first court hearing the judge or magistrate will set a timetable for what happens next.
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 if your case is about child arrangements. The course is called a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’, and could help you find a way to make child arrangements work.
The court can ask Cafcass to provide a report on your case to help decide what’s best for the child (known as a section 7). The Cafcass officer may ask your child about their feelings. You’ll get a copy of the report when it’s written.
The judge or magistrate will consider:
- 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
A judge or magistrate will only make an order if they think it’s in the child’s best interests.
Do you Need one?
If your ex is stopping you from seeing the children or making co-parenting extremely difficult, then yes, you need one.
- Your ex will not negotiate with you at all and so it is your own real way of being part of the decision making process with regards to your children
- Any parent who tries to erase a parent out of their child’s life needs to be held to account. Mild cases will usually be resolved through the “Separated Parents Information Programme” but moderate to severe cases often involve a parent with mental health issues which will need to be managed. If their behaviour is allowed to continue, you can find yourself completely alienated from your own children.
Is it worth it?
I wanted to add this section because although it is absolutely necessary and your only real option at this moment in time, I do feel you need to be aware of the realities of going to Family Court.
With certain personality types, they will see the court process as an opportunity for them to not only bleed you dry, but also to play the hero and victim in one go. They will present as a victim of your treatment (abuse claims are common) and the hero for trying to keep the children safe. They will rope in the children to deliver this powerful and damning report which is incredibly harmful to the children. In any other circumstance I would also argue for keeping children and families out of court. However, if you don’t go to court you are not only kissing goodbye to a relationship with your children but also ensuring only one side of the situation is ever heard. By fighting through court (and unfortunately it is a battle) you are showing the children in the only way possible, that you want them in your life.
One other point is that even with a CAO, if your ex is determined, they will do everything they can to breach it and not comply. They will make continued false allegations to delay the process and they will induce behaviours in the children which make them believe you are dangerous and so they should stay away from you. Sadly, the court doesn’t have a robust system for dealing with this and so breached go unpunished and Fact Finding Hearings delay contact for months at a time.
I realise this is a bleak picture but parental alienation (the psychological manipulation of a child to reject their loving parent) is a very real issue in the court process and one which you need to be aware of. Hopefully your ex is not severe but if you check multiple items on the list below, you are likely to be dealing with a personality disordered individual and need help FAST.