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Self Representation in Family Court/Tips For CAFCASS interviews(18 Posts)
So I have a Child Arrangements hearing coming up just after Christmas. DS lives with me. Father wants to increase contact time with him (currently fortnightly) but I have concerns with regard to care provided and want to stick to current arrangements - which DS is also happy with.
Like many parents (since legal aid changes); I can't afford representation. Has anyone self-represented before - and can give me some advice/tips? Are there any resources that you found useful when preparing?
Also CAFCASS are ringing me soon to see the way that things lie. Father says DS is safe with me - so no issue there. I have a feeling that we can work things out between Dad and me without court intervention (process feels intrusive to be honest). But Dad has history of not dealing with conflict and thinks court is the ONLY way to go.
Ideas much appreciated.
You say `I have a feeling that we can work things out between Dad and me without court intervention' - did you attempt mediation?
Since April it is obligatory before an application to the court is made. I presume your ex would have submitted a C100 form which has a section in it that a mediator has to sign/stamp before it will be processed.
Nevertheless, since it is now in the court arena whatever happens is now down to the Court. It may offer mediation if you have somehow managed to avoid it or it's not been tried in any meaningful way.
When it comes to a hearing you will need to demonstrate that what is happening in your DS' best interests. Simple as that. Many courts come across parents who play a `he said, she said' game without much else. It is also worth bearing in mind that the onus is on your ex - the court should not make an order unless it considers making an order is better for the child than not doing so (called the `No Order' principle).
Your first hearing is likely to be half an hour long. It may be worth preparing a position statement to assist the court summarising the background of the case and what you want the court to order. Keep it entirely child-focused and factual, with the facts justifying what it is you want the court to order. Make sure it is 3 pages long at the absolute most - 2 pages is better.
When it comes to the hearing you will get the chance to negotiate with your ex (via his solicitor if he has one) before the court makes a decision.
Let me know if you want some pointers.
Thank you for that Lostdad (and your PM).
I received the court application with the information that (unbeknown to me) ex had attended mediation on his own - and refused the service. I am not sure why. So that is the first question...
We did try mediation earlier in our break-up (in relation to property matters - 3 years ago). He sabotaged the sessions by saying that he was leaving for a job abroad - and so therefore not make any real decisions. He also refused to provide financial documentation so that financial matters could be realistically discussed. He was verbally abusive during the session and launched the table a foot across the room when standing up in a temper.
So I would say that counts as not using mediation in a 'meaningful way' as you described.
However; the mediator (this time) said that there was no legal reason for him to refuse.
What you say about the No Order Principle is interesting too. Personally; I think Dad has got a good deal - regular contact, invites to school ocassions, medical apps, school reports, photos, progress reports etc. for our DS (despite significant harassment towards me).
Yes position statement is a good idea and I think I will start that this weekend - so that when CAFCASS call; I can be concrete in saying what DS wants.
Yes - roll out the pointers. I have some ideas - but what could this position statement contain (for example?)
DS is happy with current contact but he might also be happy with more. 4 days per month isn't much at all and I doubt many parents would be happy with that level of contact.
The obligation is to attend a mediation information session - very different from attending mediation itself - unless there is a specific reason from a closed list which applies.
I think Dad has got a good deal - regular contact, invites to school ocassions, medical apps, school reports, photos, progress reports etc. for our DS (despite significant harassment towards me).
It's not about the deal for Dad, but the outcome for your son. Is it a good deal for your son? As some one has pointed out how can you be sure your son wont be happier with more time with Dad.
You need to be clear what your reasons are why your son shouldn't spend more time with Dad
All these things you list such as school events, reports - the dad is actually entitled to these, as you seem to think he should be grateful for these.
I was thinking the same as 3cookedchips.
My tip would be not to say the above about how he's got a "good deal" to Cafcass/ at Court. He's asking for more contact than every other weekend so if you have good reasons to oppose this then say them but it's not enough to say that he shouldn't have it as you already pass on school reports and photographs to him.
You haven't said how old DS is and that is very relevant. Also it is very hard to argue against increased contact by saying there are issues about parenting if contact is already successfully taking place.
Thank you for your messages. To answer a few of your points...
DS is 11 now and able to say what he wants.
The reason why I say it is a 'good deal' for Dad is that he does not have Parental Responsibility (DS's birth pre-2003 law change); but I have provided him with opportunities he would have had had he had it. In the main, he has refused to partake in decisions which affect DS - saying I have a handle on it. And refused opportunities to contribute in areas marked as legal responsibilities. He seems to contribute only when he wants/can see an opportunity to make himself look good. I will of course be savvy about any mention of this point to CAFCASS.
Yes I agree it is about a good deal for DS (entirely).
The fortnightly contact has been an informal arrangement for over three years and DS is settled in it - if not always happy. It was more frequent but DS was coming home each time complaining about aspects of his care - lack of supervision, Dad 'bad mouthing'/undermining me, non- administration of essential medication, junk food (son is on a medically controlled diet because of a blood disorder) video nasties - leading to nightmares/bed wetting, being left with people he didn't know very well (safety issue), Dad not spending time with him, wearing clothes in bed that had been worn during the day etc etc. He was also withdrawn, emotionally erratic/not his usual chatty self. He returned unwashed and smelly - the house is disgusting and aggravates my DS's allergies. There are a number of other examples. He told that he was feeling unsettled because he was 'a guest' at both houses and I noticed that his going away bag was increasingly unpacked when with us. This combination of things help me make the decision to decrease contact.
I have raised DS's points with ex (in a variety of ways) - but he has not provided any real answers to the issues raised. Or his answers show that he is not really thinking about the consequences of things for DS.
It has been very difficult to support contact under these circumstances and I have had moments when I have thought of stopping contact. I find it difficult to weigh up the pros and cons for DS. Is it better to have contact that is a challenge , rather than non at all? I think I was waiting for that definite moment when ex went just to far. I find it difficult to weigh up whether the above is just standard in separation cases or whether I need to take more affirmative action. Ex knows this and has been holding the threat of court over me to try to ensure contact.
My parents had a less than amicable divorce when I was 11 and I lost contact with my Dad at 15. I vowed that if my relationship would ever split I would do all I could to ensure contact between DS and ex. Ex knows this and has said, ' Do you want things to turn out as they did for you and your Dad?' when I have raised what DS's complaint. I said that because of the past I am actually stronger and have a better understanding of how to conduct things for DS.
Before the first hearing CAFCASS carry out a Safeguarding Check. This means that they will ask parents for details (name, date of birth etc) so that they can check with the police and social services etc whether there is any information about the adults and children involved in the case. This information is then provided to the Court before the first hearing.
At the hearing the court may decide not to hear the case and refer you both to mediation if the applicant didn't arrange a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting. Otherwise there is an attempt to see if any agreement can be negotiated. IF not the judge decides what if any information he/she requires to assist in making a decision in the form of reports. When there are welfare concerns that would be a welfare report. CAFCASS may also or alternatively carry out a wishes and feelings report ascertaining the child's views from the children themselves. Children often tell separated parents what they think the parents want to hear, or the parents may misinterpret what the children are telling them so the court wants to hear what children say directly rather than through a parent.
Although it's important to listen children's wishes and feelings are considered in light of their age, maturity and their capacity to understand the implications of their decision. Children's views aren't determinative, their views have to be evaluated in context of the family background and dynamics and decisions are made by adults in the the interests of children. For example a teenager may want to live with a permissive parent who allows them to go out drinking late on school nights where clearly it would be in the child's interest to live with the other parent if they are more authoritative and can establish some ground rules.
The importance courts attach to a child having a meaningful relationship with both parents shouldn't be underestimated. IF a father has been involved on a regular basis there is every chance he will be given Parental Responsibility.
Girlinaswirl. PR isn't hard for him to get. He can make a very simple application to Court and given he is in he child's life and has maintained regular contact it is very unlikely an application for PR will be refused. It really isn't a massive big thing that you have as an advantage over him and letting him see the school report is hardly a massive favour is it.
Sorry I missed a bit at the end of the second paragraph in my last post. At the first hearing the judge will also set a timetable for future hearings and possibly make an interim order.
Self repping can be daunting and you can always take along someone you know to give you some moral support, help with the paperwork, take notes and that sort of thing. A recent report found family/friends doing that make a "positive and appropriate contribution" that "facilitated rather than disrupted proceedings."
See p96 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380479/litigants-in-person-in-private-family-law-cases.pdf
Thank you Duck and STIDW.
Duck - I am expecting the court to give ex PR - so it makes sense for me to consent to that. He also requires it because DS has Anaphylaxsis and Dad may need to sign consent forms in an emergency. But I am also going to ask the judge to define how responsibility would pan out in realistic terms - e.g ex not interfering with the everyday primary care decisions for DS etc.
Very useful posts STIDW. Please keep them coming. How DS will come over to CAFCASS is of concern to me. Like you say; in situations of conflict it is difficult for them to know what to say for the best. My parents divorced when I was my DS's age now - so I am all too aware of how difficult it can be to say what you really want. And like you say - DS has been protected from most of the major conflict between ex and I and is not even away of the severity of some of the issues.
I am o.k. with DS speaking his mind; but ex has already sewn some ideas over the last few weeks. DS is also very shy with new people and processes information in an unusual way (working with school to see if he has special needs). He would like to write a letter to the CAFCASS officer rather than meet - which I will try to request. See if that is possible. Would he have to do this in controlled conditions?
Will read your link now. Thank you for that.
I can't imagine Cafcass would accept a letter. They are also good (in my experience) at knowing whether they are expressing their own wishes or someone else's that have been put on them - they wouldn't be able to do that through a letter.
What do you mean by your son not being aware of the severity of some issues?
There have been threats (including a death one) and a string of harassing messages and letters from Ex (resulting in solicitors letters and a visit to him by police) . All of which (of course) are not suitable/healthy to share with DS.
Thank you STIDW - very useful link. I will try to chase up some of the support agencies mentioned as useful in it. It would be a dream to have a single port of call for Litigants in Person- instead of so many separate ports of call1
Are there any McKenzie Friends out there (either trained/untrained) that have been in the court room for Family proceedings who can suggest good books/resources that they have used?
But your son is having alternate week contact isn't he? I thought you said you ex is asking for increased contact?
How can your argument against increased contact be that he is mentally unstable and unsafe/unsuitable to be around him when he already has alternate weekends? Surely your ex/his legal representation will ask why he safe to have him alternate weekends but not midweek?
A good book to get:read is "family courts without a lawyer" by Lucy Reed.
Cafcass will not accept your son writing a letter. They are likely to do a dried of sessions at school with him "play" sessions where his wishes and feelings are ascertained. They don't interview them and ask then straight "would you like to see your Father more" but find out what they enjoy doing, what scares them, what they know about how you both get along etc. They will want to ascertain if he is happy seeing his dad and if he feels safe and comfortable there- and that's probably about it at his age.
You sound concerned about DS's ability to voice his genuine opinion; if it helps, whilst my experience of Cafcass has not been overwhelmingly positive, the interaction with DC's has always been excellent. In particular, the officer who interviewed DSS was excellent. DSS felt very empowered by the session and very much listened to.
However, the issues that will be of most relevance will be those affecting DS and those he has direct experience of, rather than the ones around you and his father (death threats etc). I think it is very unlikely that they would accept a letter as it would be far too open to manipulation and pressure. Would you be happy for him to submit a letter written during a contact weekend at his Dad's? See what I mean?
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