Care proceedings are an extremely daunting prospect for any parent to face. It is therefore important that they understand the court process involved.

Care proceedings will be commenced when the local authority is concerned that a child in its area has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm attributable to either the care given to the child, or likely to be given to them, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give them, or to the child being beyond parental control.

Care proceedings are a last resort, pursued only after exhausting efforts to keep the child with their birth family.

A pre-proceedings meeting will usually take place as a final attempt to prevent the matter going to court. Parents will receive a letter from the council before the meeting, outlining concerns and inviting attendance. The council will clearly communicate parental expectations regarding their child. Failure to meet these may lead to care proceedings

Once the proceedings have been issued the exact procedure will vary from case to case, depending upon the circumstances. However, the basic procedure takes place in three stages: the Case Management Hearing, the Issues Resolution Hearing, and the Final Hearing.

Stage 1: The Case Management Hearing

The Case Management Hearing is usually the first hearing that takes place, fixed when the proceedings are issued. The hearing is typically brief, with the court providing directions for the next steps.

In order to decide what should happen next the court will review the council’s application and its plans for the child (set out in a ‘care plan’), identify the main issues in the case, and what evidence will be required to enable the court to resolve those issues.

Evidence will comprise written statements from parents expressing their views and any necessary expert reports filed. The court may also want other family members to be assessed as potential carers for the child.

A timetable for that evidence, and for next stages in the case, will then be set by the court. The court will usually want the case to be completed within 26 weeks, although this deadline can be extended.

Stage 2: The Issues Resolution Hearing

The purpose of the Issues Resolution Hearing is to see whether everyone involved is able to agree upon long-term plans for the child, including where the child should live and what contact anyone should have with them.

If agreement is reached, then this might be the final hearing.

If no agreement can be reached, the hearing identifies and narrows issues for the Final Hearing. The court will also fix a date for the Final Hearing.

Stage 3: The Final Hearing

At the final hearing, which will usually take place over several days, the court will hear (or read) all of the evidence, and make its final decisions.

The decisions that the court will make will be about the long-term care arrangements for the child, what contact the child should have with anyone, such as parents or other family members, and what orders, if any, are needed to put those arrangements in place.

The orders that the court can make include: a care order placing the child in the care of the local authority; a supervision order placing the child under the supervision of the local authority (the child will usually remain with the family); a special guardianship order placing the child with someone other than their parents; and a placement order authorising the local authority to place the child for adoption.

How can we help?

Please contact us if you require any further information.

For more information about care proceedings and how we can help, see this page.

Last year, Walker Family Law was involved in an important Court of Appeal case about the representation of children in abduction proceedings under the Hague Convention 1980. Two cases were heard together and the full judgements can be read at the links below:

Re D (A Child) (Abduction: Child’s Objections: Representation of Child Party), in which we represented the mother.

C v M (A Child) (Abduction: Representation of Child Party)

In any family court case, children can be caught up in very bitter disputes between their parents. In abduction cases, conflicts arise when a child opposes returning “home,” especially when it conflicts with the applicant parent’s wishes. It is really important that a child’s voice is heard in these circumstances, as one of the five limited defences to a Hague Convention application is a child’s objection to a return.

There are various methods supporting children’s voices in family courts, sometimes involving separate representation for the child, ensuring effective participation.

In abduction proceedings, this can either be by:

A ‘Cafcass guardian’, a court social worker, who will then instruct a solicitor.

A ‘solicitor-Guardian’, where a child instructs the solicitor directly, rather than via a Cafcass officer.

Background

Re D

A solicitor-guardian was appointed for the child, ‘D’, at the first hearing. Through the solicitor-guardian, D expressed his wish to remain in England. At the final hearing, the judge concluded that although D objected to returning to Singapore, he had been “heavily and unduly influenced” by his father in England. The judge also expressed concerns about the solicitor guardian providing opinion evidence regarding D’s objections.. D appealed.

C v M

The court had ordered the return of the child, ‘X’, to Mauritius, but X then applied to be joined as a party and to set aside the return order. A solicitor-guardian was appointed for X. At a final hearing, the judge refused to make a return order and accepted evidence that it was likely X’s views were her own and there would be ‘significant emotional consequences’ if she was ordered to return to Mauritius against her wishes. The father appealed.

Appeal

A key issue for the Court of Appeal was the role of a solicitor-guardian and the scope of the evidence they should give, particularly considering they do not have the same expertise and training as a Cafcass officer.

Due to the significance, the Court permitted Reunite International and the Association of Lawyers for Children to intervene.

Decision

In Re D, The Court of Appeal allowed D’s appeal and ‘regrettably’ sent the case back to the High Court for a new hearing. The Court agreed with much of the analysis of the judge regarding the solicitor-guardian’s evidence but concluded that the judge had effectively treated his evidence as inadmissible, which was not correct and affected the fairness of the proceedings.

In C v M, the father’s appeal was dismissed. 

With regard to the overall guidance regarding solicitor-guardians, the Court of Appeal has asked that this be addressed by the Family Procedure Rules Committee. In the meantime, the guidance can be summarised as follows:

It should be rare that a child is separately represented. The child’s voice will normally be sufficiently heard through Cafcass report.

If suggesting separate representation for a child, they must meet the Cafcass High Court Team first, except for compelling reasons.

Non-expert opinion evidence is admissible .

Pending further guidance, certain matters, like assessing the authenticity and strength of a child’s views, remain within Cafcass officers’ purview.

Currently, solicitor-guardians should refrain from providing opinion evidence beyond what’s essential to justify the child’s competence to instruct them.

How can we help?

For information on how we can help, please see our Child Abduction page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

So you have decided that you want a divorce. But how do you go about getting one? This guide should provide you with the basic information that you need to know.

Divorce essentially involves three steps: making the application, receiving the conditional order (where the court confirms your entitlement to the divorce), and getting the final order.

We will now go through each of these steps in a little more detail.

How to get a divorce

Step 1: The divorce application

Completing an application and sending it to the court initiates the process. Please note that one cannot make the application until one year has elapsed from the date of the marriage.

One party can make the application, or both parties can make the application jointly.

The application contains, amongst other things, details of both parties, details of the marriage, and a statement by one or both parties that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The court must accept that statement as proof that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, which is the ground for divorce.

The application must include your original or certified marriage certificate and the current court fee of £593.

The court will issue the application and check it. If there are no problems, they will send notice to the applicant(s) that it has been issued.


If one party made the application, the court will send a copy to the other party along with a form. The other party should complete the form, acknowledging receipt of the application and stating whether they agree with the divorce.

The other party cannot oppose the divorce because they do not believe that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. They can only oppose the divorce if they do not believe that the court has jurisdiction to deal with the divorce, if they can prove that the marriage was never valid, or if the marriage has already legally ended.

Step 2: The Conditional Order

After issuance, the applicant(s) must wait twenty weeks from the application date before progressing the divorce. This is often referred to as the ‘period for reflection’, during which the applicant(s) can consider whether they do, indeed, wish to have their marriage dissolved.

If they wish to proceed, after 20 weeks, they can apply for the divorce to move forward.

The court will then check that the divorce can proceed and, if so, fix a date for the conditional divorce order to be made. By making the conditional order the court is stating that there is no reason why a divorce cannot take place. 

Step 3: The Final Order

After six weeks have elapsed from the conditional order the party or parties in whose favour the conditional order was made may give notice to the court that they wish the conditional order to be made final. (Please note that it is usually not advisable to finalise until financial arrangements have been sorted out.)

If the court receives the notice and finds no reason not to, it will finalise the conditional order.

If given over 12 months later, the notice must include an explanation stating why the application wasn’t made earlier.

Lastly, if one party has received a conditional order but hasn’t applied to finalize it, the other party can apply to make the conditional order final anytime after three months from the first available application date.

Note

Please note that the above only covers the process of getting the divorce itself. It notably excludes sorting financial and child arrangements, which can be more complex.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Divorce & Separation page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.