A Child Arrangements Order is a legal court order that helps to ensure the welfare of children. They are most commonly used in cases where divorcing or separating parents have not been able to agree who their children will live with, or how they will see each parent. Here Stowe Solicitor Zoe Carter explains more.
What is the purpose of a Child Arrangements Order?
The purpose of a Child Arrangements Order is to legally define with whom a child is to live (previously termed residence) and with whom they should spend time (otherwise known as contact). This essentially sets out who has the responsibility for care of the child and when. Whilst Child Arrangements Orders replace ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’, parents with these previous types of orders do not need to re-apply for a new order.
What does a Child Arrangements Order cover?
The Child Arrangements Order will cover who the child/children will live with and how and when they will see each parent. For example, it may say that the child/children should live with both parents on a shared care basis, or it may say they should live with one parent and spend weekends with the other. It will also likely cover arrangements for holidays including trips abroad and school holiday periods.
A Child Arrangements Orders can also set out other types of contact and frequencies including phone or video calls, and letters and cards.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
There are 2 categories of people that can apply:
1 Those who have an automatic right to apply – this includes:
a) Any parent regardless of whether they have Parental Responsibility or not (whether they are named on the birth certificate)
b) A Step-parent (including those in a civil partnership);
c) Any person with whom the child has lived for at least 3 years (this does not have to be continuous)
d) A Local Authority foster parent
e) A relative of a child who has lived with them for a period of at least one year preceding the application (for this purpose, a relative is deemed to be a grandparent, sister, brother, aunt or uncle)
f) If you already have a child arrangements order in your favour, you can also apply straight away.
2 Those required to have Leave (the courts permission) to apply. This covers anyone not automatically entitled to apply in section 1 above. Usually, this category would cover anyone in the child’s life that does not have Parental Responsibility which would typically include grandparents – unless they are considered a guardian for the child, they will need Leave of the court.
The court will consider a number of factors when deciding whether or not to grant leave including the nature of the application; the applicant’s relationship and connection with the child, any risk that the proposed application may disrupt the child’s life to such a degree that the child would be harmed, if a child is being looked after by a Local Authority the court will also consider their plans for the child’s future and wishes/feelings of the parents.
When should I apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order should be applied for when an agreement cannot be reached on the care of the child.
Before an application is made it is important to try and agree arrangements with the other party. Mediation can also assist parties in trying to reach an agreement, however if it is not possible to agree, then it will be necessary to issue an application for a Child Arrangements Order. In most cases, before an application is made to the court parties are required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to establish whether the parties might be able to reach an agreement, rather than going to court.
Is a Child Arrangements Order legally binding?
A child arrangements order is legally binding on the parties until the child reaches 16 (or 18 in exceptional circumstances).
If either parent breaches an order and does not comply with the terms, this amounts to contempt of court and there can be very serious consequences including fines, an order for compensation to be paid, community service and even imprisonment.
Can a Child Arrangements Order be changed?
Yes – an application can be made to the court to vary a Child Arrangements Order if the order is no longer fit for purpose or in the child’s best interests.
It is important that an application is made to vary the terms of an Order rather than breaching the order. If you breach an order the other party can apply for the enforcement of the order, and you could be held to be in contempt of court. If this happens you could face serious consequences including fines, an order for compensation to be paid, community service and even imprisonment.
How will no-fault divorce affect Child Arrangements Order?
No-fault divorce will have no impact on any Child Arrangements Orders and will not affect how the court considers what is in the best interests of the child.
However, the introduction of no-fault divorce removes the requirement to assign blame during the divorce process, which typically caused increased animosity and unnecessary conflict between parents, creating an unnecessary knock-on effect for children. Enabling couples to divorce without blame creates a more amicable foundation from which to move forward, meaning that separating parents can prioritise the future arrangements for their children.
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