Investigating parental allegations
At the outset of proceedings regarding children, the court advisory service for children matters, CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will undertake checks with the police, social services and both parents to find out whether there are any concerns about the safety of the children. This includes concerns about substance misuse, domestic or child abuse/neglect or the risk thereof.
If any of these concerns are raised and it is thought that they will impact on the children’s well-being, the court has a duty to investigate them irrespective of whether they are true.
If allegations are raised, courts have a number of options. They can:
- order drug/alcohol testing
- order Cafcass to carry out a section 7 report to investigate the impact the allegations is having/will have on the children. (A section 7 report is an in-depth report in which Cafcass will speak to both parties and the children and produce a recommendation on what action should be taken)
- order a finding of fact hearing in the most serious cases and where allegations are disputed.In this hearing, both parties would give written and oral evidence regarding the allegations raised and answer questions relating to the evidence given. The court would then determine whether it believes the allegations are true or not. If a finding of fact hearing takes place, the burden is on the person making the allegations to prove that they are true using the written and oral evidence and any additional evidence they may be able to adduce.
If parental allegations are proved
Ultimately, if the allegations are found to be true or are admitted, contact with the children is likely to be affected for the parent against whom the allegations are made. (A court can also restrict contact, or order that it is supervised whilst the allegations are being investigated, although this does not mean it will be the final decision.) The court’s primary consideration is the best interests of the children and ensuring their safety. Depending on the level of risk posed, the court can order that contact be indirect (letters, phone calls, gifts etc.), supervised by a third party, in a contact centre or unsupervised.
Author: Megan Wroe, family law paralegal