In the first instance, an attempt to mediate must be explored. A mediator is an independent person, often a solicitor, who tries to facilitate an agreement between the parties without court proceedings being issued. The mediation takes place without solicitors being present. An initial appointment (MIAM) will be made to speak with each party individually and to establish the suitability of ongoing mediation. If the parties choose to mediate then the mediator will facilitate sessions together or individually, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Child Arrangement Order
If this is unsuccessful after attending the MIAM, an application for a Child Arrangement Order can be made to the Court who will then determine how much time should be spent with the absent parent and whether any conditions necessary. Sometimes the Court will direct that the parties attend some form of family therapy to understand how to co-parent in the best interest of the child / children since separation and to overcome negative feelings. It maybe that matters cannot be agreed at the first hearing and so there will be a further hearing.
A CAFCASS Officer may be appointed, to prepare a report and recommend to the court what they believe to be in the best interests of the child and how much time should be spent with the absent parent. CAFCASS are independent court appointed welfare officers, who will meet with the parents and if appropriate, the child / children, to establish the views of all the parties and the recommendation they make is based upon their investigations. They will also undertake a safeguarding check to ensure there are no risks that have not been highlighted. These include police checks, whether there has been any social services involvement and enquiries of the school if relevant.
If no agreement can be reached at this stage a final hearing will take place whereby parties will give evidence and the court will make an Order that the parties then have to adhere to.