How to Get a Child Arrangement Order
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.
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 initial advice please get in touch with our Family Law Solicitors.
How to Apply for a Child Arrangement Order
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 Solicitor even if you aren’t immediately thinking of going down the Court route.
What Will the Courts Decide?
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 - whom appears as the Court’s “eyes” and “ears” - will spend time with the family and provide a report with recommendations for moving forward.
In most scenarios, and in the absence of harm, the Court will promote and facilitate both parents having contact with the child, with practicalities such as working hours dictating how time is divided. There has been a shift away from terms such as “primary” carer, as the Courts attempt to instil the idea of equality of parenting even if the time spent isn’t strictly equal.
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 of the circumstances of the individual case.
Who Can Apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
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.
Can I Change My Child Arrangement Order?
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.
How Long Does a Child Arrangement 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.
How We Can Help You
If you’re currently in a dispute over where your child/children will live or your contact with them, then our Family 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.
For initial advice call our Family Law & Divorce Solicitors
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