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. Mediation can also be accessed during the court process, if appropriate.
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).
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.
I’ve received a letter from Cafcass Cymru – what happens now?
Before the first court hearing called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) we will prepare a short report for the court which gathers information from safeguarding checks with the police, local authorities and telephone based interviews with you and the other person involved in the case (other party).
We will contact you to arrange the telephone interview before the FHDRA.
The telephone interview will only deal with any concerns you may have about the safety and welfare of your children.
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.
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.
Some families in Wales may experience problems. If a family can’t look after their child in a safe and proper way, this is when the family court may get involved and help make decisions.
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 submitting one of our letter or picture templates to the judge or magistrate on the child’s behalf.
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. There will usually be someone from Cafcass Cymru at the court. You will usually be asked to meet with us and the other party to see if an agreement can be reached.
If domestic abuse has been a feature of the relationship this meeting can be dealt with differently.
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 process.
If there is no agreement the court may ask us for our advice and decide on the best way forward. This advice may be about use of a contact centre, attendance at a Working Together For Children course (WT4C) or possibly a further written report called a “Section 7” report.
What happens if the court orders a report from Cafcass Cymru?
After an order is made at the first hearing, a family court advisor will be allocated to your case and will make arrangements to meet with you and your children. They will prepare a report for the court on what they consider to be in the best interests of the children. The court will read the report and consider information from you and the other party and any experts' recommendations before making its decision. Your children’s family court advisor will be able to explain this process in more detail.
The Working Together for Children Course (WT4C)
The WT4C helps separated parents understand how children can be affected following parental separation, how children need to be supported through the post-separation process and the importance of improved behaviour and communication between parents.
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 a child in a Child Arrangement (Section 8) case, current arrangements are that the court will instruct a member of Cafcass Cymru to facilitate the collection of the DNA sample.
The test is free of charge.
Making an appointment
Someone from Cafcass Cymru will contact you with details of an appointment for the DNA sample to be collected at one of our offices. You can request that the appointment be rearranged, but if you do not attend an appointment without good reason the court will be informed. Equally if you attempt to defraud the process the court will be informed and you could be held in contempt of court.
If you have a disability that would make it difficult to travel to one of our offices to give a sample, contact CafcassCymruCAT@gov.wales or the contact details in your appointment letter to discuss the sampling arrangement.
Before the appointment
It is important you do not eat, drink (other than water), or smoke for two hours before your appointment. It is not essential for children not to eat or drink, but it will help with the testing.
At the appointment you will need to confirm your identity by bringing a photographic ID (preferably a passport or driving license), please don’t forget these or the process may not be able to go ahead.
We will also take your photo to accompany the copy of the ID document. These will accompany the report to the court.
It is important the parent or person with care and control of the child makes sure the child has an age appropriate explanation of why the test is taking place. We will not discuss the reason for the test with the child but we will also not tell the child anything that is untrue.
What happens at the appointment?
The DNA test requires a sample of cells are taken on a swab from the inside of the cheek of both the father and the child. We will not take the sample directly, you will be provided with information on how to do this yourself. Your name, date of birth, ethnic origin and photograph are needed to identify the sample.
Someone from Cafcass Cymru will be present to supervise the sampling and assist with the process. If you think there is some reason the sample may not be valid you should raise this at the time and the sample can be repeated immediately with a fresh sample pack.
The samples will be taken from the father and the child at different appointments.
Your sample will sealed in a tamper proof envelope and kept in a secure location before being sent by a certified courier to the laboratory where the tests are carried out.
All the details about the appointment will be contained in your appointment letter and the accompanying guidance.
After the appointment
The report will be sent directly to the court within the 30 working days specified in the court order. Your result will be sent directly to the court and nowhere else without the court’s permission. It is the responsibility of the court, and not Cafcass Cymru, to inform you of the results.
If you think there is some reason why the test might not be valid you should raise this in court.
The testing laboratory that we use is Eurofins Medigenomics Forensik GMBH (Germany) operating as DNA Legal, which is accredited by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to carry out these tests to the Court standard.
This method of testing has been used for 25 years and the DNA test is 100% accurate. It will be able to provide greater than 99.99% positive proof of relationship, confirming if the individual is the biological father of the child.
Alternatively it will provide a 100% exclusion of relationship, meaning the individual cannot be the biological father.
We understand you may need support following the results of your test, and this could be from your family, health practitioners, lawyer, or counsellor. If you have a Cafcass Cymru Officer working with you they may be able to signpost you to help.
You can also contact our DNA testing team at CafcassCymruCAT@gov.wales
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 email@example.com 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.
The important thing is we will work with you and/or your children in a way that supports (and celebrates) difference and make sure all wishes and feelings are understood and heard correctly by the family court. To allow us to assign an appropriate member of staff to your case it would be very helpful if you could 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.
Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru
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.
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.