The Children's Voice - a person to represent a child at court

Sometimes a court may decide that the children should be represented themselves, the person who represents the children is the Children's Guardian. This is a person selected from a special panel who will have experience of dealing with and advising children. They may have a social service background or be ex-probation officers. They may speak to the children and find out what the children want.

Your children are also allowed to have their own solicitor; the Children Act gives children a voice. A Children's Guardian will usually appoint a solicitor to act for the children, but the children can also instruct their own solicitor.

It can be very hard for the judge to make a decision when he or she does not know you or your partner and has not met the children. The judge may appoint someone to be the court's eyes and ears; this person is called the "Cafcass Officer", (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services). They are usually members of the Probation Service and are attached to the Family Court Service.

They will often visit you and your partner and speak to the children and then write a report for the court, in which they can make suggestions.

The judge does not have to do what the Cafcass Officer suggests in his or her report.

If you are not happy with the report and argue against it, the judge may accept what you say. You should co-operate with the Cafcass Officer if you can, they are not there to take sides, but that does not mean that you have to agree with everything they say.

The judge can decide to speak to the children personally. However many judges do not like to do this as the children often get upset, because they do not want to be disloyal to one of their parents.

Also, part of the job of the Cafcass Officer is to talk to the children to find out where they want to live and which parent they want to see.

The judge may feel it is better for the Cafcass Officer to find out the children's views.

If a child is thought to be old enough to understand the court proceedings their views will be taken into account. Children aged 12 or over are usually considered to be old enough to know what they want. The judge can decide to listen to the children, or the judge can decide for the children.

The only principle the court has to consider is what would be in the best interests of the children.

Legal Aid for court cases relating to children