How to Get a Child Arrangement Order

Posted on: 9 mins read
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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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One of the biggest concerns for parents who are separating, is where their child or children will live. Most of the time, you can work things out by just talking it through and finding some middle ground. However, when this isn’t possible or the parents are not able to come to an agreement amicably, then they might need a special order from the Court called a "Child Arrangements Order."

This order helps decide where the child will live and how much time they'll spend with each parent. In this blog, we'll explain what Child Arrangements Orders are and how they work in the England and Wales.

For more information see Child Arrangements Order Disputes.

 

In the past, there were two types of orders called Residence Orders and Contact Orders. But now, there's a single order known as a "Child Arrangements Order" that combines both. If you already have one of the older orders, you don't need to apply for a new one.

For initial advice get in touch with our Family and Child Law Solicitors.

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What is a child arrangements order?

A Child Arrangements Order is a legal decision made by a court regarding where a child will live and how much time a child will spend  with each parent or guardian after a relationship or marriage breakdown.

It specifies the arrangements for the child's care, including who they live with and what contact they have with the other parent, and it is legally binding.

The primary aim of the order is to ensure the child's best interests are protected while also providing clarity and structure for their living arrangements. Child Arrangements Orders are typically sought when parents or guardians cannot agree on these arrangements independently, and the court's involvement becomes necessary to make a decision.

 

An order, can be of four different types:

  • ‘Lives with’ Order – Decides which parent the child primarily lives with or how the child's time is divided between homes.
  • ‘Spends time with’ Order – Specifies how often the child will spend time with the parent they won’t be living with.
  • 'A specific issue' Order – Addresses specific and narrow issues like schooling or medical treatment.
  • ’Prohibited steps’ Order – Restricts a parent from taking certain actions, such as travelling abroad or making decisions on schooling or medical matters without agreement.

 

How to Apply for a Child Arrangements Order

In the UK, before you can ask the court for a Child Arrangements Order, you must attend a meeting called a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM).  Each party involved is required to  participate in this meeting unless they are exempt from doing do. In mediation an experienced mediator will assess the possibility of reaching an agreement on child arrangements.

At this meeting, a mediator explains what is involved with mediation and figures out if this method of alternative dispute resolution  is suitable for the people involved.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, and a Court Order is sometimes the only way for some parents to achieve a resolution for child arrangements after separating.

In such cases, the mediator signs a paper to say why mediation isn't appropriate. For example, if there has been domestic abuse or if one person doesn't want to go to mediation.

This form they give you is crucial if you decide to go to court later. Even if you're not thinking about going to court right away, you should give this paper to your Family and Child Law Solicitor even if you are not planning to go down the court route right away. It helps with decisions and legal actions if they become necessary in the future.

 

How do Courts come to a decision on Child Arrangements Orders?

The Court’s decision of who the child will live with, or how the child’s time will be split between households, will be based on what’s best for the child.

To enable the Court to come to a decision, it will often ask that a CAFCASS Officer - who appears as the Court’s “eyes” and “ears” - will spend time with the family and provide a report with recommendations for moving forward. Usually, they will engage in discussions with both parents and the child, where appropriate, to ascertain their perspectives and compile a report. Typically, CAFCASS doesn't conduct interviews with very young children, but children aged 5 or 6 and older might be interviewed.

In most scenarios, and in the absence of harm, the Court will promote and facilitate both parents spending time  with the child, with practicalities such as working hours dictating how time is divided for example. There has been a shift away from terms such as “primary” carer, as the Courts attempt to instill the idea of equality of parenting even if the time spent isn’t strictly equal.

 

Remember, the judge's primary concern is determining what is in the best interests of the child. To arrive at this decision, the court will consider  various factors crucial to the child's well-being, including their age, health, educational needs, and what the child may have shared during an  interview with CAFCASS.

The court order can be instrumental in providing clarity for each parent. It may include a specific schedule outlining how time will be shared with the child, which includes important events such as birthdays, special occasions, and holiday periods. This schedule ensures that both parents have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities in the child's life, ultimately serving the best interests of the child while maintaining fairness for both parents.

The Court will also consider:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child if they are mature enough
  • What effect any change in circumstances may have on the child’s wellbeing
  • The educational and any special needs of the child

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the Court will look at all the circumstances of the individual case.

 

Who Can Apply for a Child Arrangements Order?

Anyone with Parental Responsibility can apply for a Child Arrangements Order. This could be a biological parent or step-parent.

However, it's essential to understand that eligibility extends beyond biological parents. Any individual with parental responsibility, whether they're a biological parent, a step-parent, a guardian, or another relative, can seek a Child Arrangements Order.

In certain circumstances, non-parental figures like grandparents may find themselves needing a Child Arrangements Order if they believe their access to their grandchild is unfairly restricted. Nevertheless, unless the grandparent holds legal guardianship of the child, an additional step is involved. If they don’t have Parental Responsibility for  the child, they’ll need to request permission from the Court to make a separate application for Parental Responsibility.

This can sometimes be avoided if the other parent is willing to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement with you.

This same requirement applies to anyone else in the child's life who doesn't possess parental responsibility. These rules ensure that while a Child Arrangements Order can be sought by various individuals in a child's life, the process remains regulated to safeguard the child's best interests and maintain legal standards.

 

Can I Change My Child Arrangements Order?

Child Arrangements Orders are subject to modification as parental situations evolve over time, and a child's requirements naturally evolve as they grow older.

After the Order has been made by the Court, it is possible to change it. There are several situations that might necessitate a change to the child arrangements order, such as:

  • A change in your employment circumstances that makes it difficult to follow the order's specified contact arrangements.
  • Relocation to a new residence.
  • Shifts in the child's needs and requirements as they grow.

If you intend to modify a child arrangements order, the first step is to try to reach an agreement with the other party. If the changes can’t be agreed with the other party directly, then a further application to the Court will have to be made whereby a similar procedure will be followed to the initial application. The Court will need to reassess the facts to see what has changed to justify amending the Order before deciding on what’s in the child’s best interests.

It's essential to understand that if a court has made an order, it must be followed, even if you disagree with it. If you desire a change to the existing order, you should consider  applying to either amend or vary the court order.

Parents retain the ability to reach independent agreements regarding the child's care, as many orders allow for alterations to arrangements through mutual consent. Nevertheless, these are typically suitable for individual, temporary adjustments. When considering a substantial, enduring change to an order, it's advisable to formally apply to amend the order. This ensures that the changes can be legally enforced and maintained over time.

 

How Long Does a Child Arrangements Order Last?

The Order will last until the child is 16, or in some exceptional circumstances, until 18. If you reconcile with your ex-partner and move back in together, then the Order will cease after you’ve lived together for six months.

 

What does a Child Arrangements Order typically cost?

The cost of obtaining a Child Arrangement Order primarily hinges on your solicitor or lawyer's level of involvement. The fundamental application fee to be paid to the court, for a Court order is £215. However, the major expense typically arises from legal counsel.

The exact expenditures are contingent on the case's intricacy and whether an agreement is reached through mediation, a preliminary hearing, or if the matter proceeds to a final hearing.

For cases swiftly resolved in mediation, solicitors' fees are generally modest. However, if the case progresses to a final hearing, expenses could be much higher.

Legal aid is available in some circumstances when making an application for a Child Arrangements Order.

 

Is It Possible to Obtain an Urgent Child Arrangements Order?

In cases where a child is suspected to be at risk of harm or is already experiencing harm, the option to seek an Emergency Child Arrangements Order is available.

To initiate this process, you must complete a specific form, which includes a written statement outlining the grounds for the urgency and submit it to the Court. The Court will expedite the case and, if it deems it necessary, issue an interim order without prior notification to the other party.

Subsequently, a second hearing will be scheduled, at which point the opposing party will have the opportunity to present their arguments and objections regarding the order.

 

Simpson Millar Can Help You With Your Child Arrangements Order

If you’re currently in a dispute over where your child/children will live or your contact with them, then our Family and Child Law Solicitors can help you. We can talk you through anything you need to know about Child Arrangements Orders, Parental Responsibility Orders, mediation, or the Family Court.

For more information see Child Arrangement Order FAQ.

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References

Gov.uk. (2023). Looking after children in divorce or separation. [https://www.gov.uk/looking-after-children-divorce/types-of-court-order]

Simpson Millar Solicitors. (2019). Child Arrangement Order Disputes: Enforcing a Child Arrangement Order. [/family-law-solicitors/child-law-solicitors/child-arrangement-order-disputes-enforcing-a-child-arrangement-order/

Child Law Advice. (2023). Explaining the legality of a Child Arrangements Order. [https://childlawadvice.org.uk/information-pages/explaining-the-legality-of-a-child-arrangements-order/

Gov.uk. (2023). Apply for a court order - Looking after children in divorce or separation. [https://www.gov.uk/looking-after-children-divorce/apply-for-court-order]

CAFCASS. (2023). [https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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