Child Arrangement Order Guide – Everything You Need To Know 👨👧👦
Nov 09, 2020 | Christopher Dolton
How to care for your child or children is something separating couples can often find difficult to agree on. Usually, differences of opinion can be resolved through conversation and compromise, but if a couple ends up in a standoff over what will happen to their children then the next step may be to apply for a Child Arrangement Order.
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order is an order from the Court which details the arrangements for a child, including where the child will live and how they will spend time with each parent. Such an order made by the Court is legally binding on the parents of the child.
Child Arrangement Orders have replaced Contact Orders and Residence Orders, although parents who already have one of the older orders do not need to reapply for a new one.
At Elite Law Solicitors, our family law team have extensive experience of advising and assisting clients in relation to child contact arrangements. If you require any advice or assistance please make a free enquiry by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.
In addition to office meetings, we offer remote meetings via telephone and video conferencing software and can assist you wherever you are based.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order is most commonly issued to the biological parents of a child when those parents separate or divorce. However, this is not always the case. Anyone who has parental responsibility can apply for a Child Arrangement Order, whether they are a biological parent, a step-parent, a guardian or another relative.
It is not entirely uncommon for grandparents, for example, to apply for a Child Protection Order if they feel their access to their grandchild is being unfairly restricted. However, unless the grandparent is also considered a guardian of the child, they would have to go through an additional step of applying to the Court for permission to seek a Child Arrangement Order before they can begin the process. This same rule applies to anyone else in the child’s life who is not considered to have parental responsibility.
Making an application
The first step in applying for a Child Arrangement Order is to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). All parties are required to attend this meeting, during which a qualified mediator will consider whether an agreement on child arrangements might be reached through an alternative dispute resolution process such as mediation, or whether the case will need to go to the Court.
As with other aspects of divorce and family law, mediation is usually a cheaper and less demanding way of resolving disagreements between parties than going to the Court. However, mediation requires participants to enter the process with the intention of reaching an agreement through discussion. Sometimes this won’t be possible, and in these instances the parents may proceed to seek an arrangement in Court. In some cases, this first step can be skipped if the mediator considers that the case is not suitable for mediation – for instance cases involving domestic violence may not be suitable.
If mediation is not a viable option, the next step is to submit a form to the Court with all relevant details and declaring your intent to seek a Child Arrangement Order. If a solicitor hasn’t yet been consulted, at this point you may want to seek legal representation to help you prepare this paperwork to be lodged with the Court and issued and served on the other party, and to help prepare you for the Court hearings.
Once the Court has received all necessary paperwork, they will issue you with a first hearing date. At the initial hearing, the Court will focus on trying to understand the issues in dispute and what steps need to be taken to resolve them. All parents and guardians will be required to attend, along with an officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS) , although currently with the coronavirus pandemic most hearings are conducted remotely either by telephone conference call or video link. The Court will encourage the parties present to try to agree on a resolution, and if an agreement is made, they will convert this into a Court order, concluding the case.
A large number of cases are resolved at the first hearing, but if an agreement cannot be reached the case will proceed through further hearings, which may involve gathering further information on the case, having a CAFCASS officer spend time with the children and requiring parents to give evidence. At the final hearing, the Court will make their decision on the arrangements, and issue this as a Court order.
What will the Courts consider?
In a Child Arrangement Order hearing, the Court’s priority will always be the child’s welfare. The purpose of the order is to guarantee that arrangements have the child’s best interests in mind, and the Court will always have this as the paramount consideration when making its decisions.
Beyond this guiding principle, some factors the Court may consider include:
- The wishes of the child
- The child’s needs (emotional, physical and educational)
- Whether the child has suffered, or is in danger of suffering from any sort of neglect or abuse
- The parents’ capacity to provide for the child and meet their needs
- How the changes to arrangements caused by the order may impact the child
- The limitations of the Court’s power to make changes to the child arrangements
What can a Child Arrangement Order include?
A Child Arrangement Order will typically include a number of different conditions specifying where the child or children in question are to live, and who, how much, and under what conditions those with parental responsibility will get to contact them. Some common stipulations made by a Child Arrangement Order include:
- Who the child will primarily live with
- Under what conditions the child will spend time with the other parent. These conditions can include when and how frequently visits will occur (whether after school, at certain weekends or on a monthly or less regular schedule), and where the visits will take place (for example, at the non-custodial parent’s home, at the child’s home, or in a public location)
- What kinds of contact the child will have outside of these visits (which could mean texts and phone calls, emails, or interactions over social media)
The above conditions relate to the two most common types of Child Arrangement Orders: contact orders and living with orders. A contact order stipulates the terms on which a non-custodial parent can have contact with a child, while a living with order sets out where the child will live.
There are two further types of Child Arrangement Order: a specific issues order, and a prohibited steps order. Specific issues orders determine specific matters relating to the upbringing of a child, such as the sort of education they receive (for example what school they go to, or whether their education is religious). A prohibited steps order limits a parent or guardian from taking a specific step, for example, preventing a child being moved out of the country.
How long does it take to get a Child Arrangement Order?
The length of time it takes to achieve a final Child Arrangement Order depends on a number of factors, such as the complexity of the case, the amicability of the parents and guardians involved, and whether there are any safeguarding concerns regarding the child or children in question.
The quickest way to achieve an agreement is through mediation. If all parties in question are open to mediation, the terms of the arrangement can be settled without ever having to go to the Court.
If the case does progress to the Court, it will usually take around six to eight weeks from when you submit the forms to apply for a Court hearing to when that preliminary hearing takes place. If further hearings are required, there will be similar intervals of time between each hearing. If a CAFCASS officer is required to produce a report as part of the case, this can take around twelve weeks.
Including the preliminary steps of booking and attending the MIAM, preparing paperwork and attending Court, you can ultimately expect the case to take anywhere between three months and a year to be resolved and a final order produced.
Breach of Child Arrangement Order
A Child Arrangement Order is legally binding. If the terms of the order are no longer being met by one party or the other, it is possible to ask the Courts to enforce the order.
Asking the Court to step in will trigger a process similar to the one you will have gone through to secure the order in the first place: a preliminary hearing will be scheduled, during which the Court will consider the reasons behind the non-compliance and whether CAFCASS should be involved, while also bearing in mind the best interests of the children at the centre of the case.
At the conclusion of this hearing, the Court will determine whether the Child Arrangement Order has been breached without reasonable excuse. If the Court decides this is the case, there are a number of possible next steps it could take. If the Court feels that the parents would benefit, they might refer them to a mediator; otherwise they may decide to issue a Contact Enforcement Order or impose a fine or other punishment on the party who breached the initial order. Alternatively, they may decide to reconsider the terms of the order and issue it again with variations.
Enforcement of Child Arrangement Order
If the Court considers a Child Arrangement Order to have been breached without reasonable excuse, then they have the power to issue a number of different sanctions to the party deemed to have breached the order. These sanctions range from unpaid work to curfews and fines, and in very serious cases can even include committal to prison for contempt of Court. The Court can also order CAFCASS to check that all parties comply with any enforcement order issued.
It is important to note that the Court will always consider the welfare of the child or children involved as the absolute priority. The sanctions a Court can issue for breaches of a Child Arrangement Order are not simply to punish the parent, and the Court may not enforce sanctions that will have a detrimental effect on the child (i.e. by depriving them of access to a parent who has been imprisoned).
Varying a Child Arrangement Order
If the Court deems it appropriate at the conclusion of an investigation into a breach of a Child Arrangement Order, it may decide to vary the order. This could include changing the terms of contact between a non-custodial guardian and child or even transferring custody entirely.
You can also seek to change a Child Arrangement Order without a breach having occurred. If all parties agree, the order can be amended with the help of a solicitor. However, if one party does not consent to any changes, then a further application to Court will be necessary. During this process, CAFCASS may be again called upon to prepare a report detailing the wishes of the children involved in the case, to aid the Court in deciding whether the proposed changes are appropriate and in the child’s best interests.
Cost of Child Arrangement Order
The cost of a Child Arrangement Order largely depends on how much help you will require from your solicitor or lawyer. The base cost of applying for a Court order is a fee of £215, but you can expect the largest expense to be the cost of legal advice.
The exact costs will depend on the complexity of the case, and whether an agreement can be reached through mediation, at a preliminary hearing, or whether the case goes all the way to a final hearing. If the case is resolved quickly at mediation solicitors’ fees may stay quite low, but if the case makes it all the way to a final hearing costs could easily exceed £5,000.00.
Q. Can I get an Emergency Child Arrangement Order?
A. If a child is suspected to be suffering from, or is in danger of suffering from harm, an Emergency Child Arrangement Order can be applied for. To apply for an emergency order, you must submit a form, including a written statement explaining the reason for the urgency, to the Court. They will hear the case on the same day and, if they deem it appropriate, will serve an interim order without notifying the other party. They will also list the matter for a second hearing, at which point the other party will be invited to present their arguments against the order.
Q. Can grandparents apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
A. Applying for a Child Arrangement Order is not limited to parents only. Among others, grandparents can apply for an order if they are concerned for their grandchild or feel their access is being unfairly restricted. However, only those with parental responsibility are eligible to apply for an order without first seeking the permission of the Court, so if a grandparent is not also considered to be a guardian they would have to go through the extra step of applying for parental responsibility first.
Q. How long does a Child Arrangement Order last?
A. A Child Arrangement Order usually lasts until the child is sixteen, or eighteen in exceptional circumstances, unless the order specifically states otherwise. If separated parents move back into the same household, the order expires after six months of cohabitation.
Q. Is a Child Arrangement Order legally binding?
A. Yes, a Child Arrangement Order is legally binding and can be enforced by the Court if it is breached.
Q. What is parental responsibility?
Under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989, only parents or guardians deemed to have parental responsibility are allowed to apply for a Child Arrangement Order without first seeking the permission of the Court.
Parental responsibility is the umbrella term for the legal rights and responsibilities related to being a parent. Primarily this includes protecting, maintaining, and providing a home for a child, but also relates to responsibilities regarding the child’s discipline, education, medical treatment, name, and property.
There are a number of ways to gain parental responsibility for a child. A mother automatically has responsibility from birth, and a father usually does too, provided they are either married to the child’s mother or their name is on the child’s birth certificate. Parental responsibility can also be conferred to a father through a Court order or an agreement with the mother. Civil partners both gain parental responsibility provided they were partners at the time of fertility treatment, otherwise they must also apply for an agreement or order.
How Elite Law Solicitors can help
When it comes to child arrangements, taking expert advice from a specialist family law solicitor will ensure that you have someone on your side who knows the law and understands how the Courts work.
Christopher Dolton is a senior solicitor in our family law team and has extensive experience of advising and assisting clients with child contact arrangements. He possesses the experience, legal expertise and practical know-how to guide you through the legal processes involved in matters relating to child contact.
Christopher regularly provides specialist legal advice on children law issues to clients all over the country. In addition to office meetings, he offers remote meetings via telephone and video conferencing software and can assist you wherever you are based.
Make a Free Enquiry
If you have any queries relating to any of the issues discussed in this article or would like any advice or assistance in relation to child contact arrangements, please make a free enquiry by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing email@example.com or completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.
The content of this article is for general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice. If you require legal or professional advice you should obtain independent expert advice from qualified family law solicitors such as those within our firm.