How Will the Family Court Make a Decision about My Children?
In England and Wales, the Court makes decisions by considering what is in a child’s best interests, not the parents’ best interests.
When a couple separate, there can sometimes be disputes over where the child or children will live. If the parents can’t agree, a Child Arrangement Order may be required from the Court to decide where the child will live and what contact they should have with the other parent. If shared care is ordered, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the time is split equally between the parents.
For more information see Child Arrangement Order Disputes.
Child Arrangement Orders used to be known as Residence Orders and Contact Orders. A Child Arrangement Order now covers both, and any parents who have the older Orders do not need to re-apply.
For more information see Child Arrangement Order FAQ.
For initial advice get in touch with our Family and Child Law Solicitors.
Before you can apply for a Child Arrangement Order, you must first attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). The purpose of the MIAM is for the mediator to explain what’s involved with mediation and to try to work out whether this method of alternative dispute resolution suits the parties involved.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, and a Court Order is sometimes the only way for some couples to achieve a resolution after separating.
There are instances where mediation wouldn’t be appropriate, and in those circumstances, the mediator must sign off the relevant form to say why there might be an exemption to attend mediation. For instance, if domestic abuse has occurred or if the other party is unwilling to attend mediation.
This form is essential if proceedings are to be issued, so should always be passed on to your Family and Child Law Solicitor even if you aren’t immediately thinking of going down the Court route.
Anyone with Parental Responsibility can apply for a Child Arrangement Order. This could be a blood parent or step parent. If you don’t have Parental Responsibility of the child, you’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.
Once the Order has been issued by the Court, it is possible to vary it. If the variation 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.
Parents can still make agreements to the child’s care outside of the Order, as most Orders will provide for changes to arrangements by agreement. However, these are usually one-off arrangements and if a wholesale change is to be made, then it’s better to vary the Order formally to ensure it can be enforced.
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.
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 Arrangement Orders, Parental Responsibility Orders, mediation or the Family Court.
Fill in the form below to get in touch with one of our dedicated team members, or call our team today on: 0808 239 3465