A Child Arrangement Order is an order that regulates with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person. This replaces the previous Residence and Contact Orders which in turn replaced the terms ‘custody’ and ‘access’.
All Child Arrangement Orders prioritise the child’s welfare above all else and are legally binding. Understandably, this is often a very emotionally strenuous process for everyone involved.
Other orders include Specific Issues and Prohibited Steps Orders: A Specific Issues Order determines certain matters regarding how a parent wishes for their children to be raised. For example, it can allow a parent to change their child’s name, religion, or choose where they can go to school. Alternatively, a Prohibited Steps Order disallows parents to do certain things, such as move abroad with the child or remove the child from their nursery/school.
Child Arrangement Orders are legally binding and will usually involve going to court, which can be expensive and stressful. If possible, family mediation can help you reach an agreement by providing a mutual space to meet with a legal expert who can help you conduct a civil negotiation and provide information on the law. It is also faster, less expensive and can allow for the family to decide for themselves how the children will spend time with their parents – however, for mediation to work you and your ex-partner must both be prepared to listen and seek an arrangement that is fair.
There are certain situations in which mediation is not suitable, for example if there was domestic abuse or if the situation is urgent.
You do not have to be a child’s biological (or adopted) parent to apply for a Child Arrangement Order. If you are a grandparent, aunt/uncle, step-parent or other direct relative, you may be able to make a Child Arrangement Order if you feel you are being denied the opportunity to see the child without fair reason. However, unless you are already considered to have Parental Responsibility over the child, you will have to request permission from the court to do so.
Parental Responsibility emphasises the importance of responsibility for children, not their rights over the children and is defined in s 3(1), Children Act 1989 as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’
The mother of a child automatically has Parental Responsibility, as would a father who is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or after 1 December 2003, if his name is on the birth certificate at the time of registration or re-registration of the birth.
Alternative ways to acquire Parental Responsibility are as follows:
Parental Responsibility agreement with the mother or by order of the Court
Where a lesbian couple have a child together through fertility treatment, the mother’s partner will have Parental Responsibility if she is registered as a parent on the child’s birth certificate or enters into an agreement with the child’s mother or if the women are in a civil partnership
A step-parent who is married to or the civil partner of one of the child’s parents may acquire Parental Responsibility.
The following things may include in a Child Arrangement Order:
The Court’s decision on where the child will live is entirely dictated by what is in the child’s best interest. Some of the things that will be taken into consideration include:
Part of the purpose of a Child Arrangement Order is to protect children from harm; therefore, if you can prove that the other parent poses a danger to your child’s safety and wellbeing, you can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent them from being able to see your child. You can make an urgent application for such an order if you think the other parent is dangerous without them being there; however, there will be a second hearing in which the other parent can defend themselves. This application can be made without notice being given to the other parent. However, you cannot prevent the other parent from being able to see your child if they are not a threat to your child’s wellbeing.
The common steps are:
– This meeting will conclude whether it is possible to reach an agreement through formal mediation, rather than taking the matter to court. Both parents are required to be present for this meeting. However, this meeting may not proceed if the mediator believes an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, such as in cases where domestic abuse took place.
– If the MIAM determined that mediation would be ineffective, you will need to apply for a Child Arrangement Order to the court with relevant information about your relationship with your ex-partner, your children, and your circumstances.
– The First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) is ordinarily the first hearing concerning child arrangements. The other parent and anyone else with Parental Responsibility must attend this. Prior to the hearing, an officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) will contact yourself and the other party to discuss your concerns. They will conduct some welfare checks and prepare a safeguarding letter to the Court. They will also be present at the hearing and assist in trying to reach an agreement. If successful, the court will issue the court order as per the agreement. You should go into your first hearing determined to reach a solution – if you are unsuccessful, the court will decide on the next steps, which may include a CAFCASS officer preparing a report and the parties filing statements.
– A Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) is a hearing that takes place before the final hearing. By this point the Court will have all the reports, statements and any other information required to make a decision. If at this hearing no agreement can be reached the matter will be listed for final hearing.
– At the final hearing, the Court will hear evidence from the parties and the CAFCASS officer if there is one and then make a final decision.
Breaching a Child Arrangement Order without a reasonable excuse can have serious consequences for the parent. They can be fined, given a curfew, sued for financial compensation by the other parent or in extreme cases, imprisoned. The Child Arrangement Order can also be changed following a breach to reflect on the parent’s behaviour.
You can apply to vary a Child Arrangement Order if your circumstances have changed. If you and the other parent agree on the changes, you can do this with the help of a solicitor. If you cannot agree, you may have to go to court. The court may also vary a Child Arrangement Order if it has been breached by either parent. This can even lead to a parent being disallowed from having any further contact with their child, if it is believed the child is unsafe around them.
After the application has been made, it could take six to eight weeks before the first hearing. If subsequent hearings are required, it can take even longer before a final Child Arrangement Order is granted. Including booking the MIAM and preparing for hearings, the entire process can take anywhere from three months to a year. The sooner you have an arrangement agreed, the less stress you and your children will have to face. The fastest way to resolve the matter will usually be through mediation, and by keeping a civil relationship with the other parent.
A ‘spend time with’ order expires when the child turns 16 and a ‘live with order’ will expire when the child turns 18, or within six months of the parents beginning to cohabit together should this occur.
At WPC Lawyers, we understand the complexities and sensitivities involved in Child Arrangement matters, and we are committed to providing compassionate and expert legal assistance. Our team of experienced family law professionals is dedicated to helping clients navigate through child custody and visitation issues with the best interests of the child at the forefront. Whether you are going through a divorce, separation, or require legal assistance in establishing child arrangements, we offer tailored and strategic solutions. We provide guidance on creating effective parenting plans, negotiating custody agreements, and, when necessary, representing our clients in court to ensure their rights and the well-being of the child are protected. At WPC Lawyers, we strive to alleviate the emotional burden by offering reliable legal support throughout the Child Arrangement process. Contact us today at email@example.com