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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for help and guidance.