Navigating child arrangements after a separation or divorce can be challenging for both parents and children. A child arrangement order is a legal document that sets out the specific arrangements for a child’s living arrangements, contact with each parent, and other important aspects of their upbringing. In this article, we will explore the concept of child arrangement orders in the context of family law. We will discuss the legal framework, the factors considered by the court when making these orders, and the importance of seeking guidance from a family law solicitor to ensure the best interests of the child are protected. Understanding child arrangement orders is essential for parents seeking clarity and stability in their post-separation parenting arrangements.
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
Child arrangement orders were originally introduced in the UK back in April 2014 in the Children and Families Act 2014 (which initially amended section 8 Children Act 1989). This order was meant to replace Residence Orders and Contact Orders. A Child Arrangement Order is essentially a court order that sets out arrangements for a child to live and spend time with both parents. It says with whom the child is to live, spend time or have contact, and also the timelines within which these arrangements are to take place.
The ‘residence’ aspect of the order remains effective until the child turns 18 years of age, unless the court dismisses the order or discharges the child, or through a Care Order. As for the ‘contact’ aspect of the order, it remains in effect until the child turns 16 unless the court decides otherwise based on the case presented before it. The individual named in the order as the one with whom the child is to live will have parental responsibility for the child the period indicated in the order. As for the person named in the order as the person with whom the child is to spend time or have contact with, but not live with, isn’t automatically obligated to take up parental responsibility, but the court may provide in the order for the individual to have the responsibility while it remains in force.
Moreover, given that Child Arrangement Orders are private law orders, they can’t be made in favour of a local authority. This is why when a Care Order is issued, the local authority is required to promote healthy contact between the parents and the child. Under section 34 of the Children Act of 1989, a Contact Order can be made requiring the authorities to allow contact between the child and the named person in the order. Also, you have to note this – the court that’s making all these orders must have regard to the paramountcy principle, the ‘no order’ principle, as well as the welfare checklist included under the Children Act 1989.
Is there a need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)?
Yes! In fact, before making an application with regards to family matters, let alone your children, you are required to attend a MIAM with an accredited and professional mediator to ascertain whether the issues at hand can be solved through mediation or application to the court. However, there are situations under which one can be exempted from attending a MIAM. These include:
- Where there are Child Protection concerns
- Where there is evidence of domestic violence
- Where the applications are urgent and delays put the safety of the child or the applicant in jeopardy, cause miscarriages of justice or challenges to the applicant.
- Where one has previously attended a MIAM or has been exempted from one.
- Where the circumstances present renders MIAM attendance unreasonable or inappropriate.
So, if your case doesn’t fall under any of these categories, just contact a family mediator and arrange a MIAM before making your application in court.
Who can apply for the order?
Just like in Residence and Contact orders, anyone can apply for a Child Arrangement Order. But going a bit deeper, those people who can apply are categorised into two: the ones who are entitled to apply; and those who will need the court permissions first for them to apply.
Those who are entitled to apply
- Any parent – regardless of whether they have Parental Responsibility for the child or not – guardian or a special guardian.
- The individual named in a Child Arrangement Order that’s currently in force as the one with whom the child is to live.
- Any party to a marriage within which the child is a member of the family, which includes step-parents and former step-parents (including those in civil partnerships).
- Any individual with whom the child in question has lived for at least three years – please note that this period doesn’t have to be continuous, but must not have begun more than 5 years before, or ended over 3 months before the application date.
- Any person:
- With the consent of the individuals named in the Child Arrangement Order as the ones with whom the child is to leave with.
- In a case where there is an existing care order in force and is permitted by the persons with whom the order favours.
- In a case where the child in question is in the care of the local authority and has their consent to make the application.
- Who has been named in the order in relation to the ‘contact’ aspect and was awarded parental responsibility by the court.
- With has the consent of the persons with parental responsibility to the child.
- A local authority foster parent with whom the child is to live with, or have lived with at least one year immediately preceding the date of the application.
- A relative to the child. A relative includes the child’s grandparent, sister, brother aunt, or uncle (either by full or half-blood), or through marriage or civil partnership.
Those who require permission to apply
Persons who are not automatically entitled to apply for a Child Arrangement Order may seek permission from the court to make the application. Please note that having been granted this leave doesn’t in any way insinuate that the application will succeed. There are a number of issues in which the judge will take into consideration before granting the leave:
- The nature of the application
- How the applicant is connected to the child
- If there are any risks that the application will disrupt the child’s life, to an extent where they will be harmed by it.
- If the child is under the care of the local authority, the court considers what the authority’s future plans for the child are, and what the wishes of the child’s parents are.
How do you get the Child Arrangement Order?
Once you ascertain that you are eligible to make the application, then comes the actual application. As we mentioned earlier, you will be required to attend a MIAM before making your application. The reasoning behind this is to try and establish whether the parties involved will be able to reach an agreement through a mediation process instead of a court process. Of course, there are those cases in which the agreement will be reached, but if for some reason no agreement is arrived at, then the applicants must then fill a C100 form and submit it to the court alongside all the relevant documents and details. Your family attorney should be able to help you prepare the application, or even do it on your behalf, and will also ensure that they serve the application to the other party before the first hearing. During this stage, quite a lot is involved, including:
- Preparation of the application which includes a short statement that explains the issues leading to the dispute.
- If there is any alleged risk of harm on the child, a supplementary will also be required.
- Then they will draft the papers required and then lodging them with the court for an issue. It is always recommended to lodge the issue with a court that’s near to where the child currently is living.
- There is the arranging of papers on all the relevant parties.
- The certificate of service will also need to be filled
- The court will consider the best date to hold the first hearing, and by then the lawyers should be ready to present your case in court.
Some cases are heard and determined during the first hearing. But if not, other stages follow, some of which will include filling of evidence in statement forms. What’s more, later in the process, the court may direct CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) officer to collaborate with you, where he or she will make some recommendations to the judge, which will then be relied upon in determining your case.
Lastly, the court will set aside a date for the final hearing where the judge will consider all the evidence tabled before him/her, including the recommendations from CAFCASS, in making the final decision. Note that the court can issue a temporary Child Arrangement Order. In most cases, such orders are given in situations where the court wants to return the child to the care of one parent, or when it wants to ensure that some contact is taking place while further hearings are going on.
How long does it take to get a child arrangement order
When it comes to the time factor, the period in which it takes to get a Child Arrangement Order depends on a number of factors such as how committed the parties are to reaching an agreement, the proposals being made, the evidence required for the case, the court dairies as well as its availability. But on average, it can take anywhere between 6 to 12 months to get the final order. It takes around 6 to 8 weeks from the date of application to the first hearing. And when CAFCASS is involved, it will take around 12 weeks for them to come up with a comprehensive report. But the court may be able to deal with a case on an urgent basis if such an application is to be made.
What are some of the directions and conditions a court can give?
In the orders issued by the court, there may be directions on how it will be enforced, and/or impose a number of conditions which the parties named – such as the person with whom the child is to live, spend time or have contact with, the parents, any individual with parental responsibility, or basically anyone with whom the child is living, or the one to whom the conditions are directed to – must comply with.
1. Activity directions
When proceedings are contested and the court is considering whether to issue, vary or discharge the order, the court may make an ‘activity direction’, which directs the parties to the case – at any point in time during the proceedings and before the final order is issued – to undertake certain activities so as to improve the child’s life. It could be to establish, maintain or even improve your involvement in the child’s life. Other activities that may be ordered by the court include programs, classes as well as counselling or guidance sessions, which help in establishing, improving, or maintaining your involvement in the child’s life. Others include programs that are designed to address an individual’s violent behaviour, also geared towards facilitating better involvement in the child’s life. Remember that an activity direction is only issued when there are disputes with regards to provisions of the Arrangement order.
2. Activity conditions
If the court varies or makes an Arrangement Order, it may impose an activity condition, which requires the individuals named to take up a certain activity that would aid in establishing, maintaining, or improving their involvement in the child’s life. The activities required are quite similar to those required by activity directions.
Now, for a family court to give such directions or conditions, it must be satisfied that:
- The activity requested is appropriate based on the circumstances
- The party providing an activity is suitable to provide it
- The said activity is present in a place within which it will be reasonable to expect the party in question to travel.
In order to ensure compliance with the activity conditions or directions, the court may ask a CAFCASS officer to monitor you, and report non-compliance back to the judge. This is also the case once the court issues Child Arrangement Orders – the court may ask the officer to monitor compliance.
What happens in the event of a Child Arrangement Order breach?
If the court, through a CAFCASS officer, discovers that the parties mentioned in the order are in breach, it issues an enforcement order. Through this order, the court can sanction the party in breach with a warning, fine, prison sentence, or even community service. But if there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the non-compliance, the enforcement won’t be issued – but you will also need to notify the court of such an explanation beforehand.
In the event that the parties involved agree to depart from the arrangement set out in the order, it won’t be seen as a breach. However, the parties must be aware that the changes agreed upon between them are not legally binding unless the court is formally notified of the same. Otherwise, in case the informal agreement comes to an end, the parties will have to revert back to the original arrangements.
Discharge, variation, or ending of a Child Arrangement Order
The family court may either discharge or vary a Child Arrangement Order either during ongoing family proceedings or upon a free-standing application. On a variation application, the judge can look, and change, any aspect of the order, including the directions and conditions issued. Moreover, the order may come to an end if:
- It ceases to be effective when the child is of age
- It ceases to be effective after the parents have lived together for over 6 months
- It is discharged by the court
- A Care Order with the respect to the child is issued by the court, as the arrangement order will be discharged automatically.
- A new order is issued with regards to the individual with whom the child is to live with.
How much does a Child Arrangement Order cost?
The amount you will pay largely depends on the kind of help you got from your lawyer. But in terms of the application fee, you will pay 215GBP to the court. The cost for legal advice will depend on the complexity of your case, as well as how long the case will take before being determined. If the case is to progress all the way to the final hearing, it might cost you anything from GBP5000 upwards. Talk to your family attorney, he or she will give you a range of what you might expect to spend.
Family law solicitors play a vital role in guiding individuals through various legal processes and disputes within family law. Whether it’s divorce, child custody, adoption, or other family-related matters, solicitors provide expert advice and support to help individuals make informed decisions and protect their rights. Their knowledge of the legal framework, case precedents, and procedural requirements ensures that individuals receive the necessary guidance and representation to navigate complex family law issues successfully. Engaging the services of a family law solicitor can make a significant difference in achieving fair outcomes and resolving disputes in a timely and efficient manner.