The Section 7 Welfare Checklist is pretty much the most important element of a child court hearing in the UK. When you understand its importance you can use it to benefit your case and your fight to equally parent your children.
This blog post is based on my experiences of self-representing in my child court case. It is a quick summary of the importance of the Welfare Checklist which is a set of questions used by the court when deciding how a child’s time with their separated parents should be split. I hope it is of value to you but please remember this is not legal guidance.
What is the Section 7 Welfare Checklist?
The Section 7 Welfare Checklist is a report created by CAFCASS (Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) and used by the court to help determine how your children’s time will be shared between parents.
Basically, someone from CAFCASS interviews each parent and based on the answers to their questions, compiles this report. Subject to their age, your children may also be interviewed by a CAFCASS Officer.
How to answer the CAFCASS questions
Parents are fearful of their CAFCASS meeting and to a degree you should be but only so far as making sure that you do not mess it up. It is vital before having your conversation with CAFCASS that you are familiar with the points upon which they compile the Section 7 Welfare Checklist.
Do not over answer your questions or focus negative comments on your ex-partner. If there is a point you wish to raise about your ex then make sure it is in regards to the children’s well-being and the context of the Section 7 Welfare Checklist.
Focus on the good you do – and plan to do – as their Father and be sure to talk only of the children as “our children”.
By being level headed, clear in your answers and confident in your desired outcome you can be confident in a positive CAFCASS conversation.
If you are aware of accusations made by your ex then avoid getting stuck in a blame conversation or muck slinging. You can say you disagree or put forward an alternative version but equally, you can confidently suggest is has no baring on the welfare of the children.
Breakups are stressful and painful. It is unlikely you did not argue or shout at each other. So long as no-one was hurt then it should not have compromised your abilities as a father.
The Section 7 Welfare Checklist
In my second child court case I created a supporting document that detailed my own response and views on the Section 7 Welfare Checklist. I outlined how specifically my desired 50/50 split of time with our children would be both feasible and beneficial to the children.
I believe this was a much more positive court submission than the battle during court case one where I sought to defend myself and cast equally negative accusations back at the ones I was facing.
The court are required to take the wishes and feelings of the child into consideration. It is not defined in law at which age the court will begin to listen to the child, but the court will tend to place more weight on a child’s wishes and feelings from the age of 11 or 12 onwards. However, it does depend on the individual circumstances of the child in question; The court will assess their maturity and understanding of the situation.
Ordinarily it will be the role of CAFCASS to speak to the child and ascertain their wishes and feelings. In exceptional circumstances the Judge may speak to the child themselves. It is important for the court to be satisfied that these are indeed the true wishes and feelings of the child and they are not mirroring the views of a parent. It is important to be aware that the wishes and feelings of the child are viewed in conjunction with other factors and will not wholly dictate the outcome.
The court are required to consider the child’s short term and long term physical, emotional and educational needs. They will consider which parent is best placed to provide these to the child and this will usually be based on evidence that has been submitted to the court. Physical needs tend to be straightforward whereas emotional needs may require more investigation. A child’s needs will change as they become older and therefore the court must be satisfied that the parents can manage these changes and provide stability for the child at the same time.
The court are required to consider the potential impact of any change in circumstances on the child. The court will often take a decision that will cause the least disruption to a child’s life. An example of this may be where the non-resident parent applies for residence of the child. The court will need to consider the potential impact that the change in residence would cause, i.e. change of school, change of social environment.
The court are required to consider the child’s age, cultural and religious background and other characteristics which are specific to the child and the wider family.
The court will examine harm that the child has suffered and harm that the child is at risk of suffering in the future. Harm is defined as ‘‘ill treatment or the impairment of health or development”. The court will weigh up the potential risk to the child and issue an order which is reflective of this. The order could feasibly contain protective measures which are aimed at safeguarding the child. This particular criterion will require the court to examine allegations of domestic abuse.
The court will want to ensure that both parents are putting the child first and are able to meet all the child’s needs. This criterion will therefore require the court to consider the respective accommodation that both parents are able to provide and the extent to which both parents can meet the child’s needs. This will be case specific and therefore it will depend on the specific needs of the child and the abilities of the parent. There is no assumption that a mother is better placed to meet a child’s needs compared to the father.
The court will consider every option and can make a wide range of orders, even if they have not been applied for. For example, there may be a case determining contact but it emerges that the resident parent intends to go abroad on a permanent basis with the child without seeking the consent of the other parent with Parental Responsibility. The court may therefore think it is appropriate to grant a prohibited steps order preventing the moving parent from leaving the jurisdiction.
When you understand that the function of the Section 7 Welfare Checklist is to support the court in making an un-emotive decision then you can speak powerfully into their decision-making process.
More importantly, it will ensure that you stay focused on what matters in your child court case.