By Senior Solicitor and Head of Family Law, Tracey Moloney
If you have an issue relating to the care or custody of your child following a separation, it's often possible to ask the Court for help. The first step is to attempt to resolve the matter through mediation and if this is unsuccessful, then the next step will be to make an application to the Court for an Order.
This is likely to be a stressful and upsetting time for any parent, so to make things a little easier I have put together some step-by-step guidance on how to apply for a Court Order in a Children Matter.
Why Might Someone Make an Application to the Court?
There are a number of reasons why someone may seek help from the Court to resolve a children matter. It may be that they are not getting regular contact with their child or they may feel that their relationship with their child is being controlled by the other parent. Alternatively, one parent may want their child to attend a specific school or prevent the other parent from moving away with the child. These are all matters that the Court can help with.
Here are the steps which you will need to follow when dealing with a Children Matter...
Step 1 - Mediation
If you are trying to resolve a Children Matter then the first step is for you to reach out to a mediator, who will attempt to help you resolve the issue without the need to go to Court. Contact your nearest mediator and ask them if they are able to provide you with an FM1, should mediation not remedy the issues between you and your ex-partner.
You may need to attend mediation or the mediator may decide that mediation is not appropriate. Either way, if mediation does not resolve the matter then you will receive your signed FM1.
You will need to send the signed FM1 to the Court along with your completed application form.
Step 2 – Fill in the Court Application Form
Download a C100 application form from the Court's website and fill it in, telling the Court what you are looking for help with. You will have several choices on the form and you will need to select which ones apply to you.
You'll need to confirm the following:
- Is it contact related?
- Is it prohibited steps? (Are you trying to stop something from happening such as changing schools, changing names, or stop them from moving away)
- Is it a specific issue? (The opposite of a prohibited steps, so you are asking the Court to order that something does happen, such as attending a specific school, being called by a specific name, etc.)
If you feel that the child is at risk then you will tick a box on the C100 form which will then direct you to fill out a supplemental form called a C1a. This form will ask you to detail the harm that you feel the child is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing.
Step 3 – Submit Paperwork
When both forms are complete you will then send them to the Court, along with the signed FM1 and the Court fee of £215. This is the only Court fee that is attached to the application for a Children Matter.
If you are in receipt of benefits or on a low income then you may qualify for fee remission. You can download a form from the Gov.uk website and establish if you qualify for this.
Once you have everything you need, send your application to the Court nearest to where the child lives. You will need to send the original as well as three copies.
Step 4 – The Application is Issued and Served
Once the Court receives your application form they will then 'issue' it, which means they will assign it a number. They will then send you two copies of the application form back and they will keep the third copy for their file.
When you receive the two copies back, you will keep one for yourself and send the other copy to your ex-partner. This is called 'service' of the application and you must serve your ex-partner with a copy of the issued application once you have received this from the Court.
When the Court issues the application, they will also set a date and time for the hearing, which is the date that you (and anyone else involved in the matter) will attend at Court. You also need to send these details to your ex-partner so that they also know when to attend Court.
Step 5 – Safeguarding Checks
Your hearing date will be at least two weeks from the date that the application is issued, but this could be longer depending on which Court you are dealing with.
During those two weeks the Court will perform some checks, and they will also ask CAFCASS for assistance. CAFCASS stands for the Children and Family Advisory and Support Service, and their specialist social workers assist the Court with Children Matters.
CAFCASS will be asked by the Court to do a safe guarding check. They will start by checking the child's name against social services information to establish if the child is known to social services. They will then check your name and the name of your ex-partner with police records to establish if either of you are known to the police.
Don't worry if these checks return some results - this doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be able to have contact with your children. However, depending on what the checks reveal, this could have an impact upon how often that contact takes place or whether it needs to be supervised.
Step 6 – The Court Hearing
You will then need to attend Court for the hearing on the date provided and confirm to the judge what you are applying for. You can choose to instruct a Family Law Solicitor to represent you at the Court Hearing, or you can choose to represent yourself if you are confident in doing so.
This covers the application for Children Matters and the Court process will begin from here. What happens from this point onwards will differ from case to case.
For more information on what's involved during Court hearings for Children Matters, see the following articles:
- First Court Hearing in Contested Children Law Cases Explained
- What happens at a Fact Finding Hearing in Family Court?
- What Happens at a Final Hearing in Family Court?