Deciding how much time the child will spend with each parent
The arrangements for seeing a child if you are a parent have changed significantly in the past few years. The previous terminology was having contact whereas now you apply for a child arrangements order to spend time with a child. The court is now committed to carrying out initial safeguarding checks to ensure that the time spent is safe and secure.
The starting point is that it is in a child's best interests to spend time with both parents. Since 2008 the court have tightened up the procedure if the parent with care stops the non-resident parent seeing the child. There is now an enforcement procedure which can lead to the resident parent being fined, doing unpaid work in the community or in very rare cases being jailed if they fail to have a reasonable excuse for not allowing the child to spend time with the non-resident parent in breach of an existing children act order allowing the same.
The starting point if a dispute arises between parents as to the amount of time that the non-resident parent should spend with the child is for the parties to attend mediation voluntarily. If the non-resident parent has tried to get the other parent to attend mediation without success then he/she needs to attend a mediation and information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before being able to issue court proceedings.
If the non-resident parent does not know the locality of the child then an application can be made to court to try and locate the child. If the locality of the child is known it makes sense to issue in the locality of where the child lives as opposed to where the non-resident parent lives. The process consists of an initial hearing called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) a second hearing called a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) and a Final Hearing.
Most cases do not go to a final hearing. This is because the parties can agree matters at the first hearing where often a court welfare officer and/or a mediator are present or after a court welfare officer's report has been obtained the parties agree to settle as per the recommendations of the court welfare officer.