The head of one of the region’s largest family law teams is warning that parents who want to change child contact arrangements for Christmas need to start the application process now, otherwise their plans may be scuppered.

Nathan Wright, a Partner and head of Family Law at GHP Legal which has offices in Wrexham, Oswestry and Llangollen, says court delays across the country are causing huge problems, which is also the case in North Wales where a new pathfinder scheme is being piloted.

“Even under normal circumstances, changing a Child Arrangement Order can take several weeks”, says Nathan, “but the Courts are also still suffering from a backlog caused by covid. And whilst we may all be balking at the idea of Christmas cards being in the shops in September, we must remember that Christmas really is now only twelve weeks away!

“Even if both parents potentially agree to an amendment to an original Child Arrangement Order, it is preferable to make it legally binding. If both parents agree, a consent order covering the new arrangements must be drafted to present to the Court with the variation application. If the parents cannot agree, then they must ask the Court to decide how to vary the order.

“With or without agreement of both parents, all potential family court applications must include a statement from a mediator to confirm that mediation has been discussed at a MIAM and this alone can take several weeks.

“In North Wales a pathfinder scheme is being piloted whereby following a Court application being submitted, CAFCASS are immediately Ordered to prepare a report looking at the impact of any Order on the child. That report can take up to 8 weeks and there will usually be a Court hearing after it is prepared.

“Before the Court approves an application to change a Child Arrangements Order it will consider a list of potential effects on the child including: the child’s wishes and feelings, bearing in mind their age and level of understanding; the likely effect on them of any change in their circumstances; their age, sex, background and any characteristics which the Court considers relevant; any harm they have suffered or are at risk of suffering; how capable of meeting the child’s needs each of their parents is, and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant.

“I cannot stress enough the urgency of getting these applications started now, beginning with making an appointment for mediation with a family lawyer, as otherwise people could be looking at the New Year before their case is listed for a Court hearing.”

Pictured: Nathan Wright, Partner with GHP Legal and Head of Family Law.