A child arrangements order is a court order that sets out who has responsibility for the care of a child, including who they live with and how often they will see/ have contact with both parents.
Most commonly used in cases where the parents cannot reach an agreement on how to share the care of their children, the purpose of the order is to ensure that the child’s welfare is the first and foremost consideration.
Things to consider before applying for a child arrangements order
Before you make an application for a child arrangements order, you should try to agree on the arrangements with the other party.
You can consider preparing a parenting plan; a written statement that both parents sign up to establish the ground rules of shared parenting.
Mediation can also assist parents in reaching an agreement about arrangements for their children.
If an agreement cannot be reached, then it will be necessary to issue an application for a child arrangements order.
What is a child arrangements order? What does it mean?
A child arrangements order is a court order that sets out who is responsible for the care of a child.
It is usually used in cases when the parents cannot agree on how to split care of their children.
What conditions can a child arrangements order specify?
A child arrangements order can state:
Who the children live with
Where they live
When and how the children will see both parents
For example, they may spend weeknights in the family home and weekends with their mother/father.
It can also set out other types of contact such as through phone calls, video calls, cards and letters etc.
Who can apply for a child arrangements order?
The following people can apply for an order without prior permission from the court.
A parent, guardian or special guardian of the child
A spouse or civil partner if the child is part of that family
Someone with parental responsibility
Someone who already has a residence order for that child
Someone who the child has lived with for more than three years
Grandparents, who do not meet any of the criteria above, have to apply to the court for permission before applying for the order.
How do I apply for a child arrangements order?
You will need to obtain a signed MIAM* form before you can make an application for a child arrangements order. * MIAM is the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. This is a required step for anyone having a dispute regarding children unless certain exceptions apply such as domestic abuse.
An application for a child arrangements order is made on a C100 form. This sets out the details of the children and the parties involved. You will be asked to state which orders you are seeking and why.
You will also need to complete a C1A form if you are alleging harm and domestic violence.
Once you have completed the C100 form, you will need to send it to the court in triplicate along with the court fee which is currently £215, unless you are eligible for a fee exemption.
The application should be sent to the nearest court to where the children concerned in the application live.
Once the court receives your application, it will set a date for everyone involved in the application to have a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA).
The court will send a copy of the application to the other party, and they must complete an acknowledgement form and return it to the court to confirm that they have seen the papers.
How long does a child arrangements order last?
Generally, a child arrangements order will expire when the child turns 18 years old unless otherwise stated.
How much does it cost?
You will need to pay the current court fee of £215 unless you are eligible for a fee exemption and your solicitor’s fees. While you do not need a solicitor to apply for the order, it’s advisable to have professional legal advice from an experienced family lawyer as this area of law can be complicated.
What do the courts consider when granting a child arrangements order?
First and foremost, the courts will consider what is in the best interests of the child using the welfare checklist, which considers the following:
The wishes and feelings of the child concerned dependent on their age and level of understanding
The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision
The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision
Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
The capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs
The powers available to the court in the given proceedings
Is a child arrangements order legally binding?
Yes, this order is legally binding, and if a parent breaches it, they will be in contempt of court which could mean fines, enforcement orders, unpaid work in the community and even imprisonment (although this is extremely rare).
How are child arrangements orders enforced?
Unfortunately, these orders are not always complied with.
If you are experiencing difficulties with a child arrangements order, try to discuss the breach (s) with the other parent in the hope that you can reach an agreement without having to return to court. Meditation can also help here.
If you have to return to court, an application for enforcement is made on a Form C79.
Enforcement proceedings must be dealt with without delay and if possible, listed before the judge that dealt with matters previously. A hearing will be listed within 20 working days of the application being issued.
Can I stop a child arrangements order?
Circumstances change, and it is not uncommon that a child arrangements order no longer works for the child or the parents, particularly as children get older.
You can ask the court to vary an order; however, before making an application, it is advisable to look at other methods of negotiation. This could be negotiation via solicitors or mediation. In some cases, where there are older children involved, they too can attend mediation to tell the mediator what it is that they want.
If this not possible, you will need to complete a C100 application form and explain why you are asking the court to vary the current child arrangements order.
The court will only vary the order if they consider it to be in the best interests of the child to do so.
However, where possible, try and stay out of court as it is expensive, time-consuming and upsetting for the whole family.
How can a lawyer help with a child arrangements order?
Taking professional advice from a specialist family lawyer will ensure that you have someone on your side who knows the law and understands how the courts work.
A family lawyer will help you to understand the likely outcome of the order and help you to change or improve the outcome.
This is a complex area of the law and going to court is expensive. A family lawyer can help you to negotiate with your ex-partner and hopefully settle the case amicably.
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This article was originally published on an earlier date and has since been updated.