There is not likely to be any legal battle in your life with a more important outcome than in relation to your children, so it is vital that you do everything in your power to get things right from the outset.
A Child Arrangement Order regulates arrangements relating to where your child will live, whom they will live with, when your child spends time with each parent and when, and what other types of contact will take place. Child Arrangement Orders prioritise the well-being of the children involved, ensuring their best interests are kept at the heart of any decisions made. Each Child Arrangement Order will differ between families depending on individual needs and circumstances.
Though Child Arrangement Orders replaced Contact and Residence Orders in 2014, this does not affect the validity of any Contact or Residence Orders that have been obtained in previous proceedings.
Newtons’ child law solicitors understand that there is not likely to be any legal battle in your life with a more important outcome than in relation to your children. If you do need to apply for a Child Arrangement Order, you should seek professional advice from an experienced solicitor in child law. They will be able to advise as to the best course of action, bearing in mind that the best interests of the child or children must be met.
Who Can Apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
Child Arrangement Orders can be applied for by anyone who has parental responsibility for the child or children. Typically, this is the biological parents or those named on the child’s birth certificate, though step-parents, guardians or other relatives may also possess parental responsibility (PR).
It is important to remember that rather than considering the rights of the parent, family law talks in terms of parental responsibility for the child. The term parental responsibility refers to the duties, responsibilities and rights of the parents. If a parent or carer has PR, they should be consulted about important decisions regarding the child and their welfare, such as schooling and medical treatment. However, it does not extend to everyday matters such as bedtimes or pocket money, etc.
Applying for a Child Arrangement Order may be the result of separation or divorce, and when agreements on looking after your children cannot be made without the help of the Courts.
In some cases, those without parental responsibility, such as grandparents, may seek to apply for a Child Arrangement Order in exceptional circumstances, but they will need to apply for the permission of the Court beforehand.
What is Included in a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order can determine a number of different conditions that those with parental responsibility must comply with once they are legally agreed upon or set out by the Court.
- Where the child will live – this arrangement can be split between those with parental responsibility, with the child spending time living in both households, or can be arranged where the child only resides at one household.
- Division of custody time – this determines the amount of time the child will spend with each parent or those with parental responsibility. Some families opt for the 2-2-3 schedule, with the child spending two days with one parent, two with the other and so on. In other circumstances, the division of time may refer to after school, at weekends, every other week or less regular intervals.
- The kind of contact with the child – an arrangement can be made to specify how the child is contacted, whether that is through text, phone call, direct interaction on social media, post or email.
How to Apply for a Child Arrangement Order
A Court application is not something to be entered into lightly. Before applying to the Court, each party should consider the significant emotional impact going to Court will have on all those involved.
Step 1 – Mediation
It is now a legal requirement to attend a mediation information assessment meeting (MIAM) before issuing an application for a Child Arrangement Order. You must show a willingness to resolve issues regarding looking after your children through mediation and negotiation. A fully-trained family mediator can help you and your former partner deal with a range of issues, including disputes over children, money and property.
Mediation can be a less stressful and less confrontational option than Court proceedings. It can demonstrate to your children that you and your partner are doing all you can to resolve disputes amicably and pave the way for good communication in the future.
However, not all cases are suitable for mediation, such as where there has been domestic violence, issues of child neglect or abuse or if it simply requires the urgent attention of the Court. In these types of cases, you may be exempt from the requirement to attend mediation and will be able to make an application to Court.
In other cases, your partner may fail to attend mediation, in which case you will be able to make the necessary application to Court.
Step 2 – Making an Application for a Child Arrangement Order
If an agreement cannot be reached, either privately or with the help of mediation services, an application to the Court for a Child Arrangement Order can be made. Child Arrangement Orders are considered within the premise of The Children Act 1989.
The Principles of The Children Act 1989
- The welfare of the child will take priority over all other matters.
- Children have a legal right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents and their extended family wherever possible.
- The wishes of the child must be considered where age allows.
- Any hearing will begin with the premise that children are best cared for by their own families.
- Court orders should be avoided wherever possible.
- Delays should be minimal.
- Discretion and flexibility – there should be a wide degree of flexibility afforded to the Courts. The Court must judge each case on its own individual merits.
Step 3 – Initial Court Proceedings
Proceedings will be issued by the applicant, and a date will be set for an initial Court appointment. An independent Children’s and Family Reporter (CAFCASS officer) may be appointed at this stage if there is a welfare issue to be addressed.
Step 4 – Further Court Proceedings
If an agreement is still not achieved, a further hearing date will be issued. The CAFCASS officer may be asked to write a full report and make recommendations. This can be a long process, taking some 12 – 16 weeks. The CAFCASS officer will speak to each party concerned, including the children if they are old enough. This report usually serves to clarify issues and may lead to an agreement between the parties. If this is not the case, however, it will offer guidance for the Courts when making decisions about the child.
Step 5 – The Final Hearing
If an agreement between both parents or those with parental responsibility was not reached during court proceedings, the Court will make its final decision on the Child Arrangement Order.
It is important to realise that an Order set by the Court is a legal document to which each party must comply. It will include a warning to each party about the consequence of non-compliance, which may include a fine, retraction of the Order, or even a custodial sentence.
It is acknowledged, however, that over time, circumstances may change, and a Child Arrangement Order may need to be adjusted or reviewed. It is therefore possible for either party to apply for a variation of an existing Child Arrangement Order.
What Will the Court Consider?
The Court will take into account a number of factors in order to make significant decisions about the child or children. This is called a welfare checklist and includes the following:
- The child’s wishes or feelings.
- The child’s physical and emotional needs.
- Any background characteristics considered to be of importance by the Court, such as possible changes in residence or school for the child and the potential effects of this.
- The potential risk of harm to the child.
- The ability of each parent to meet the needs of the child or children.
What Are the Other Types of Court Orders?
Under The Children Act 1989, several different types of Court Orders are possible. These are as follows:
- Prohibited Steps Order
This Order may set out what cannot happen and can only be applied for if there has been a threat of an action taking pace, such as removing a child from a specified area or out of the jurisdiction without permission.
- Specific Issue Order
This Order will outline certain aspects of the child’s upbringing where there is an irreconcilable dispute. An example might be issues regarding the child’s schooling or medical treatment.
How Long Does a Child Arrangement Order Last?
A Child Arrangement Order lasts until the child is 16 years of age. However, the resident aspects of a Child Arrangement Order will stay in place until the child is 18 years old.
How Much Does It Cost for a Child Arrangement Order?
There is a £232 Court fee to apply for a Child Arrangement Order. We would always recommend seeking legal advice from trained family law solicitors to ensure the best possible outcome for your children. At Newtons’ Solicitors, we offer a clear explanation of the fees and do everything we can to deliver the best outcome for your children within your agreed budget.
Can You Get a Child Arrangement Order Without Going to Court?
An informal child arrangement can be agreed upon outside of the Court through mutual agreement between those with parental responsibility or through mediation. However, a legally binding Child Arrangement Order needs to be processed through the Courts.
Does a Child Arrangements Order Give You Parental Responsibility?
A Child Arrangement Order does not give you parental responsibility if you did not already have parental responsibility before legal proceedings. All mothers and most fathers have parental responsibility, though there are situations whereby parental responsibility is not automatically assigned to a parent or guardian of a child. Learn more about parental responsibility law.
How Newtons Solicitors Can Help
If you are considering applying for a Child Arrangement Order, seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity can help you reach the best decision for you and your children. Our team of specialist child law solicitors understand the sensitivity of making decisions about your children after separation or divorce. We endeavour to understand your circumstances and find an agreement that ensures the best interests and welfare of your children.
If communication has broken down, it is vital that you receive quality legal advice so you can achieve the best possible outcome for your children, both in terms of their financial and emotional security. It is also essential that you are honest when talking to your legal representative about yourself, your partner, and your situation. Knowledge is power for your solicitor, but only if it is based on fact.
If you wish to discuss an application for a Child Arrangement Order or any other family law issues, please contact the family team at Newtons Solicitors. We offer a first-class approach to what can be a difficult and upsetting time. Please note that we also offer a free half-hour confidential appointment and can be flexible when needed. We have car parking and wheelchair access.