Can a party be compelled to co-operate with CAFCASS?

When two parents separate and cannot reach an agreement as to the on-going arrangements for their child or children (i.e. who the children live with and how much contact they have with each parent), the absolute last resort if they have exhausted all other forms of dispute resolution is to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. This type of order allows the court to intervene, hear each parent’s case and arguments and make the final decision as to what is in the best interests of the children.

In the majority of cases, in order for the court to have a comprehensive view from each parent’s perspective the Court will involve the  Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).  CAFCASS are there to independently advise the family courts about what is safe for children and in their best interests. The idea is to put their needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting. A CAFCASS officer will usually be appointed by the court at the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) to prepare a report setting out the wishes and feelings of both parents and the children.

Usually CAFCASS will interview both parents individually when producing their report as well as interview the children in a way that is appropriate for their age and in a familiar but neutral setting (such as at school) so the child feels comfortable in giving their honest opinion without their parents being present. But what happens if one parent fails to cooperate with CAFCASS?

Provided each parent has full capacity to understand the court proceedings, if one party is not cooperating with the CAFCASS officer unfortunately there is very little that can be done to force cooperation. When the court makes a directions order at the FHDRA, the order usually is for CAFCASS to produce the report and very rarely specifics that the parties have to co-operate with CAFCASS in the production of the report.

However, non-compliance can be raised with the court at the next hearing known as the Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). There is always a possibility that the court will draw adverse inferences from the non-cooperation with the CAFCASS officer, which could impact on future children arrangements. Therefore it is important that any parent going though such proceedings does comply and works with CAFCASS to make sure all relevant information is presented to the court so a decision on the future arrangements for the children is one which is make with full knowledge of all the facts.

If you are separating from your partner and/or are finding it difficult to make arrangements in respect of your children, please do not hesitate to contact us and book an initial consultation with one of our family solicitors. We are on hand to give you advice as to the specific circumstances of your case and help you find a resolution which does not involve the court process. Contact us on 01473 611 211 to book an appointment.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.

Ipswich Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email