Sometimes families can find it hard to agree on what is best for their children, to help make things better they may ask the family court to help resolve their disagreement.
The role of Cafcass Cymru
If appointed by the court, we will allocate a qualified social worker, called a Family Court Advisor (FCA) or Family Court Social Worker (FCSW) to your case. Their 4 main duties are:
- promoting the welfare of children
- giving advice to any court(s) about applications made to it
- helping children to be represented in proceedings
- providing information and advice for children.
We are not a legal service and cannot provide legal advice.
In many cases mediation can offer a better resolution of a dispute than can be achieved in court.
You must access a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying to the family court, unless you meet the criteria for exemption. A MIAM is a private meeting with a mediator on your own, where you can speak openly and confidentially, to find out whether mediation or some other process might be helpful. The MIAM will help you understand what other options are possible and it might lead to a faster, better solution than going to court.
Mediation can also be accessed during the court process, and it might mean you can reach agreement or find a solution more quickly.
Family mediation services use independent, trained professionals to help you and your children’s other parent work out an agreement about issues such as:
- arrangements for children after you break up (sometimes called residence / living with or contact / spending time with)
- child maintenance payments
- finances (for example, what to do with your house, savings, pension, debts).
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has developed a mediation voucher scheme, whereby a contribution of up to £500 per case/family to the mediation costs of a child arrangements case will be offered, encouraging people to seek to resolve their disputes outside of court where appropriate to do so. Full information about the voucher scheme can be found on the Family Mediation Council website.
Other help for separated parents
The Parenting Together website is a guide designed to help separated parents understand what their children need most from them and can help parents to work out how to communicate for the best interests of their child. Using a Parenting Plan to work though arrangement for your children can also help some parents reach agreements that meet their children’s needs.
Family Justice Young People's Board top tips for parents who are separated
The Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) members are children and young people with experience of family law proceedings. They have devised these top tips for parents to help them think about matters from their child’s perspective.
A private law application has been made to the court – what happens now?
Before the first court hearing, which is usually a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) we will prepare a short report for the court which gathers information from safety checks with the police, local authorities and telephone based interviews with you and the other person involved in the case (the other party).
We will contact you to arrange the telephone interview before the FHDRA.
The telephone interview will deal with any concerns you may have about the safety and welfare of your children and your views about the application.
We will prepare a short report for the court based on the outcomes of the safety checks and any telephone interviews we’ve have completed.
You can find more information about the Safeguarding Enquiries report that we will prepare in our introduction letter.
A private law application has been made to court in North Wales (Wrexham, Prestatyn, Caernarfon Courts) - also known as Pathfinder – what happens now?
From 21 February 2022, all private law applications that are made in North Wales will be part of a new initiative. This aims to reduce the amount of time families are involved with the family court, while prioritising the safety of both children and their parents/carers and promoting a problem-solving approach to making child arrangements. This new initiative is known as ‘Pathfinder’. If you have previously been involved in any private law proceedings, you will notice a difference in your involvement with the family court and Cafcass Cymru.
For applications in North Wales, once the court has received an application, they will usually ask us to write a Child Impact Report.
As a first step, we will gather information from safety checks with the police, local authorities and make arrangements to talk to you and the other adult(s) involved in the case.
We will listen to the reasons that your family have asked the court to make an order, what arrangements you think would work best for the children, and any concerns you may have about the safety and welfare of you and your children.
Depending on the issues for your family, we may want to speak to other people who are involved with your family (like your children’s school and other support services), and we may want to talk to the children themselves. If we can, and if it is safe to do so we will help the family to agree arrangements. This may involve several meetings or discussions with family members by telephone, video call or face-to-face meetings. The Child Impact Report will summarise the work we have done. We send the report to the court and the adults involved in the case usually receive a copy. The court will then decide the next steps. If your children have a social worker allocated to them from Children’s Services, the court may instead ask them to do this work and write the Child Impact Report.
You can find details about what happens after you have made an application to the family court in North Wales, along with some other helpful information in our introduction letter.
What happens in the Family Court?
The family court helps solve disagreements between families and helps protect children and young people who may be at risk of harm.
Only family matters are decided at a family court. Although they look like any other court, they try to be less formal.
The people involved in the case
Sometimes the 'parties' (the people involved in the case, parents or the local authority) will have legal help; this can be in the form of a solicitor or a barrister. These people know about children and family law and they will speak to the judge to explain the wishes and feelings of the people they represent.
Sometimes the 'parties' will represent themselves in court. These parties are called 'a litigant in person' and they have the right to address the court in person, just as a solicitor or barrister would do. If you are a litigant in person (LiP) you can find more information and support in our Help and Support section below.
We are unable to offer any legal advice. If you divorce or separate and you do not have a solicitor you may find useful information on these websites sorting out separation, family lives, Ministry of Justice information on Making child arrangements.
The judges in family court have special training before they start making decisions. The judge will ask questions and listen to everybody’s views on the disagreement before making a decision and may ask experts, such as social workers and family court advisors, to help them make up their mind.
Cafcass Cymru will only ever become involved in a case if a court asks us to.
Do children go to court?
Children and young people do not normally go into the court, so it is our job to make sure that we find out the wishes and feelings of the children involved in the case so that we can make these known to the court and the judge/magistrate. This is normally in the form of a report which the judge will read and ask questions about if they need to. We also provide the opportunity for children and young people to communicate with the court by helping them to write a letter or draw a picture to the judge or magistrate on the child’s behalf.
Children have the right to ask to meet with the judge or magistrates who will be making decisions on their behalf. We will inform the court if a child tells us they would like to meet the person who will be dealing with the case. The judge or magistrate then decides whether to hold a meeting with the child.
Once the court is happy that they have heard the views of everyone involved in the case and they have received all the information they need, they will make a decision based upon what they believe is in the best interests of the child in the case
What will happen at the first hearing?
You will be asked to attend the family court on a set date and time. This may be a remote hearing via telephone or video platform, or you may be asked to attend the court in person. There will usually be someone from Cafcass Cymru available to assist the court. Depending on the advice given to the court in the Safeguarding Enquiries Report, you may be asked to speak to us and the other party to see if an agreement can be reached, that meets the needs of your children and is in their best interests.
If domestic abuse has been a feature of the relationship it is unlikely that you and the other party will speak jointly with the Cafcass Cymru worker.
If an agreement is reached and the court is satisfied that it is safe and in your children’s best interests an order may be made stating what has been agreed. This order is called a ‘consent order’ and will end the court process.
If there is no agreement the court may ask us for our advice and decide on the best way forward. The advice may be that a contact centre would be suitable. You may be referred to a Working Together for Children course (WT4C), and if there are concerns about the safety or wellbeing of your children, or about whether they can safely have relationships with both parents, the court may ask Cafcass Cymru or the local authority for a further assessment before making a decision.
What happens if the court orders a further report from Cafcass Cymru?
After an order is made at the first hearing, a Cafcass Cymru practitioner will be allocated to your case. They will listen to the views of the children and adults in the case. They will prepare a report for the court on what they consider to be in the best interests of the children. If safe to do so, they will try and help you reach agreement. The court will read the report, and may hear evidence from the Cafcass Cymru practitioner. They will also consider information from you and the other party before making their decision.
This introduction letter explains more about how we will work with you if a further report is ordered by the court.
The Working Together for Children Course (WT4C)
Working Together for Children (WT4C) is a course designed to help separated parents understand what their children need most from them and to learn the fundamental principles of how to manage any conflict and difficulties between them – and how to put this into practice.
What is the course?
The WT4C is what the court calls a Child Arrangements Activity. These are designed to promote, encourage and maintain contact between children and the parent/family member that they do not currently live with. The WT4C supports the principle that children should have a meaningful relationship with both parents following separation, as long as it is safe and in the child’s best interests.
The course also strongly encourages separated parents and families to:
- focus their attention and approach on the needs of the child
- reduce any conflict
- strive for improved communication.
WT4C complements the overall approach that, unless there are safeguarding concerns, separated families should be encouraged to resolve their disputes themselves.
Practical information about the course
The WT4C is only run by independent providers who have received appropriate training to deliver the course. It is not delivered by Cafcass Cymru.
Delivery of the course currently takes place in areas across Wales.
The course takes place over 4 hours and can be delivered over 1 day or over 2 separate days in 2 sessions of 2 hours.
The WT4C is only available to separated parents/family members following the making of a Child Arrangements Activity Direction by the Family Court.
Once an order is made, Cafcass Cymru will make a referral to a suitable provider, local to where the parent/family member lives. Parents/family members will not attend the course together and will normally be referred to different providers.
There is a charge for attending the course of £150.00 per person. However, if the parent or family member is receiving legal aid then attendance is free.
Cafcass Cymru also makes allowance for those parents who may be put in a situation of financial hardship if they have to pay for the course.
To apply for financial assistance from Cafcass Cymru to meet the cost of attendance, you will need to complete an application pack, following which we will make the decision as to whether the criteria for financial assistance have been met. We will be inform you of our decision within 5 working days of receiving your application, and if successful we will refer you to a suitable provider.
Contact Services are voluntary organisations. We will only refer to and work with Contact Services accredited by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC).
There are 2 different types of contact centre:
- Supervised Contact Centres – where risks have been identified in the case.
- Supported Contact Centres – for low risk cases.
We will complete a risk assessment in all cases and refer parents to the appropriate centres. These services will only be used where it is considered safe and beneficial for the child to have contact. The centres are equipped with your child in mind, providing toys, games and facilities which reflect the diverse needs of children affected by family breakdown.
If you have been referred to a child contact service or just want to find out more please visit the NACCC website for further information.
If the family court orders that a DNA test should be carried out to confirm the parentage of a child in a Child Arrangement (Section 8) case, current arrangements are that the court will make a request to Cafcass Cymru, and we will instruct our provider DNA Legal to facilitate the collection of the DNA sample on behalf of the court.
The test is free of charge.
Help and support
Litigant in person (LiP)
Sometimes the 'parties' will want to represent themselves in court. These parties are called 'a litigant in person' and they have the right to address the court in person, just as a solicitor or barrister would do. If you are an LiP you may be interested in this short film produced by The Family Justice Council. The film looks at how an individual without a lawyer should represent him or herself in court about a family problem. The film looks at the questions people who have represented themselves have said they worried about most and shows simple tips for presenting your case.
Domestic abuse is the misuse of power and control by one person over another within an intimate or family relationship. It can take the form of physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual abuse, or a combination of all of these.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse you can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline: 0808 8010800 firstname.lastname@example.org for help, advice and information. Live Fear Free is a free 24 hour domestic abuse helpline for everybody.
What will Cafcass Cymru do?
You can find more information on domestic abuse and how you will be supported in the court in our factsheet.
If we learn there is, or has been, domestic abuse in your case, we will tell the court so the judge can make a decision about your children and prioritise their safety.
Victims of domestic abuse who meet certain criteria may be eligible for legal aid; you can find out more information on this here.
How we support diverse needs
Everyone is unique and has different needs; some of those needs may require further support from us, for example, in being able to communicate as effectively as possible. In Cafcass Cymru we are committed to ensuring that everyone’s individuality is valued and to working with you in a way that supports and celebrates difference, as well as ensuring that children’s wishes and feelings are understood and heard correctly by the family court. We will ask you about your diversity in order to ensure we consider your needs.
Please let us know as soon as possible if you or your children may require additional support, consideration or assistance from us. If English is not your first language and you feel that you would benefit from an interpreter or translation of our documents, please let us know and we will try our best to make sure this happens.
Other organisations and charities
Information on where to find further help for adults from external organisations and charities.
An advice service for members of the public and for professionals in Wales – providing help and information about adoption, fostering and tracing relatives to all those affected in any way.
Information, Advice and Support for Black & Minority Ethnic people in Wales.
Carers Trust Wales
Carers Trust Wales exists to provide action, help and advice to carers throughout Wales.
Contact a family
Contact a Family provides support, advice and information for families with disabled children, no matter what their condition or disability.
Parenting and family support from Family Lives (formerly Parentline Plus) through our website, online chat, helpline and parenting classes.
Both Parents Matter
We provide expert advice, practical support and campaign for single parents.
We are Wales’ leading charity for people with serious mental illness and their carers.
National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC)
Keeping parents in touch with children after separation.
Relationship Counselling, Sex Therapy and Supported Child Contact in Wales.
We are SafeLives, a national charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse.
Welsh Women's Aid
Welsh Women's Aid is the national charity in Wales working to end domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women.
Free, confidential online and telephone support for adults worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person.
Parenting. Give it time
Encourage positive behaviour, boost your child’s confidence and support their development.
Dewis Cymru provides range of information relating to services for adults. By reading these pages you'll be able to find information that may help you focus on what matters to you right now. Each page provides a link to their resource directory, where you'll find local and national organisations and services that may be able to help.
Safeguarding children in a digital world
It is important to keep your child safe online. This resource for parents and carers provides helpful guidance and activities to develop understanding of online safety issues and support children when at home. The activities can be used to teach children about the importance of safe and responsible use of technology.
Give us your feedback
We always want to improve. So we always want to hear what you thought about the work we did with you. You can fill in a feedback form and we will see if we can improve.