When parents separate, the ideal is for them to be able to agree on arrangements for their children and how much time the children will spend with each parent. Nowadays, most parents have parental responsibility, so in law, they have an equal say in their children’s upbringing. Those big decisions, such as which school a child should attend, how to deal with Covid-19, and boundary settings are decisions that should be made together.
When parents cannot agree on child arrangements
In some cases, it is simply not possible to agree on specific issues or child arrangements and in these cases, a parent can make an application to the court for a Child Arrangements Order (CAO). A Judge being asked to decide what is in the best interests of the children will often ask a CAFCASS Officer to file a report.
A CAFCASS officer will speak to both parents, and to the children and will file a report setting out both parents’ point of view, the wishes and feelings of the children, and making a recommendation. This enables a Judge who has not personally seen the children to make a Child Arrangements Order that is in the best interests of the children.
In some cases, however, this is not the happy solution hoped for. It has long been recognised that children are harmed by parental conflict. They need a good relationship with both parents, and they need to feel free to love both parents without being made to feel guilty about this. This is easily said but can sometimes be more difficult to achieve.
Improving Child and Family Arrangements (ICFA) service
CAFCASS have introduced a new service. Improving Child and Family Arrangements (ICFA) is a service designed by CAFCASS to help families agree on a safe, beneficial, and sustainable time with both parents when a family is finding it difficult to arrange this on its own.
CAFCASS must make the referral to an ICFA service and ICFA work can take place over a few weeks. It may include but is not limited to, meeting the parents together and/or individually to help resolve issues and prepare them for spending time with the children. It can also include direct work with the children to prepare them for spending time with an adult. It allows for observation of an adult spending time with the children in a contact centre, the home, the community, or any other suitable setting.
How the ICFA service can help children caught up in parental conflict
ICFA work is short term and must be ordered by the court in private law cases. It has 4 expected key outcomes for families:
CAFCASS have 5 regional providers that lead and coordinate the work in their areas. Following receipt of a referral from CAFCASS, the ICFA provider will contact both parents to complete a Proposed Work Plan. This will set out the agreed work to be undertaken. At the end of the work, the provider will prepare a final report outlining the work completed and progress made, which will be discussed with the family and shared with CAFCASS, who in turn can share it with the court.
Here is a link to more information about the service: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/improving-child-and-family-arrangements/
Separated Parents Information Programme
Some time ago, the court introduced a Separated Parents Information Programme. If an application is made to court, most parents will be expected to attend this. I have attended a mock-up of the programme and have been impressed by its content. ICFA work will build upon this programme.
How Neves can help
If you are going through a divorce or separation and are having difficulties agreeing on arrangements for your children, or the way forward with your ex-partner, then please do get in touch with me or a member of Neves Family Law Team. We offer a fixed fee initial meeting so that we can give you more information about how to agree on arrangements, signpost you to local services who may be able to help, such as mediators, or give you information about the legal process of applying for a Child Arrangements Order. We have experience in cases of parental alienation and can assist.