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What Is A Child Arrangements Order?

A child arrangements order is a legal agreement between the court and the parents or guardians of a child. Child arrangements orders are used to ensure that the child’s living arrangements are made in their best interests.

Why is a Child Arrangements Order Necessary?

Divorcing or separating parents can’t always come to an agreement on matters like child custody, especially if the separation has been an acrimonious one. When the parents can’t come to a decision on their own, one or both parents may apply to the court for a child arrangements order. This order can stipulate where and with whom a child lives, when and where they have contact with a non-custodial parent, and certain other matters relating to the child’s welfare.

Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?

In most cases a child arrangements order is applied for and granted when the parents of a child are divorcing or otherwise ending a long-term relationship. This is not always the case, however. Sometimes one of the parents may not be a biological parent, or may be a guardian or other relative. For example, the grandparents or other relatives of a child may apply for a child arrangement order in a situation where for example, when one or both of the child’s parents has died or is believed to be an unfit parent.

Not everyone can apply to the court for this purpose. The people who can apply for a child arrangements order include:

  • A parent, guardian, or special guardians.
  • Anyone who currently has parental responsibility of the child(res).
  • A person in a marriage or civil partnership where the child(ren) is a child of the family (even if they are not a biological parent).
  • Anyone who has a residence order in respect of the child, or who has lived with the child for three years or longer-term.

In short, anyone who has parental responsibility for the child can apply, even if they are not a biological parent. Anyone else who wants to seek a child arrangements order can only do so if they apply to the court for permission first.

How can a Lawyer Help with a Child Arrangements Order?

A family law solicitor can provide help for parents who are struggling with a custodial dispute, whether or not they end up going to court for a child arrangement order. Solicitors can provide advice and advocacy, help with drafting legal documents and agreements, and other tasks. For example, a solicitor can:

  • Provide legal advice for a parent who is trying to reach a custody agreement with an ex-spouse or partner.
  • Provide legal advice for a grandparent or other relative who needs to seek the court’s permission to apply for an arrangement order.
  • Provide legal advice during the mediation process.
  • Help fill in forms and prepare legal documents required during the process of applying for and obtaining the order, and file the appropriate documents with the court.
  • Prepare and send to the court the application for a child arrangements order, and arrange for the order to be served on the other parent or guardian.
  • Prepare evidence and supplemental information for subsequent hearings, to ensure the courts have all the information they need to make a decision.

The Child Arrangements Order Process

When a marriage breaks down and there are children involved, the parents are ideally able to agree on where the children will live, and when the non-custodial parent will have contact. Sometimes, however, parents can’t agree on these details.

Mediation

If parents are unable to agree they enter into a process called mediation. This starts with a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting, which is compulsory for both parents to attend.

At this meeting the parents talk with a trained mediator, to see if their custody dispute is one that can be solved via mediation. If the mediator believes that mediation will be successful, they will recommend that the parents attend one or more sessions with a trained mediator. The mediator is there to help the parents reach an agreement about custody and other issues relating to the child (ren).

If the mediator does not think mediation will help the parents resolve their dispute—or if they try mediation and do not reach an agreement—the next step is to apply to the court for a child arrangements order.

Applying to the Court

Once a parent or guardian applies for a child arrangement order, the court schedules a “directions” hearing. This hearing is mediated by Magistrates or a Judge, and both parents and guardians must attend.  An officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is also present, to assist the court at this hearing.

During this initial hearing, it is the Magistrates or the Judge’s job to encourage the parents to reach an agreement that takes into consideration what is best for the child. If at all possible, the courts attempt to reach an agreement or decision at this first hearing. If this does not happen the Judge or the Magistrates will schedule one or more further hearings.

Additional hearings may involve other steps such as filing evidence, and calling witnesses or filing witness statements. An officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) may also become further involved at this stage, as someone who is appointed to be an independent advisor to the court and relay the child’s ( children’s) views to the court. The CAFCASS representative may make recommendations to the court to help the court make a decision.

At the final hearing, the court reviews all of the evidence and statements that have been made and makes a final decision which is put into an order of the court.

What do the Courts Consider when Granting a Child Arrangements Order?

A child arrangements order always considers the child’s best interests over everything else. The entire purpose of the order is to ensure that the child’s welfare is the first and foremost consideration. In making a decision, courts consider a number of different factors:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child.
  • The child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs.
  • Whether the child has suffered any kind of abuse or neglect, or is in danger of doing so.
  • The ability of the child’s parents or guardians to meet the child’s needs.
  • The effects on the child of any changes in circumstances as a result of the order.
  • What changes the court has the power to make.

What Conditions can a Child Arrangements Order Specify?

The child arrangements order typically specifies a number of different conditions about where children live and with whom they have contact. Possible stipulations include:

  • Who the custodial and non-custodial parents or guardians will be;
  • When and where the child will spend time with the non-custodial parent. For example: after-school, weekend, or monthly visits at the non-custodial parent’s home. In some cases the visits may be specified as taking place at the child’s home or in a public place;
  • What other kinds of contact the child can have with the non-custodial parent. For example, phone calls, texts, or emails.

Specific Issue Arrangements

There are four main types of child arrangements orders. The primary kinds that apply in most cases are the residence order, which stipulates conditions such as where the child(ren) lives, and a contact order which stipulates when the child(ren) have contact with their non-custodial parent.

The third type of child arrangements order is known as a specific issue order. This one is for specific details of a child’s upbringing, for example, where they go to school, and whether or not they have a certain kind of religious education; whether it is in their best interests to change their surname.

The fourth type of child arrangements orders for which a parent or guardian can also apply is known as a “prohibited steps” order. This is an order that prevents the other parent or guardian from taking a certain step, for example, a prohibited steps order might prevent a parent from taking the child out of the country.

It is important to take specialist legal advice in respect of all issues in respect of children. Please contact our specialist Mrs Sadhana Joshi 0203 540 7665 sjoshi@avenuesolicitors.com for help and guidance.

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