Introduced in 2014, the Child Arrangements Order replaced the previous legislation for residence order. A child arrangement order is a legally binding agreement which is made between parents or guardians and the court. The orders are there to ensure that any decisions which are made reflect the best interests of the child.
A child arrangements order may be necessary for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most common scenario is when a couple have divorced or separated and they can’t agree on who has full custody of their children. When parents cannot reach a mutually agreeable decision both or one of the parents can make a court application to obtain an residence order which states who the child should live with.
The court will issue a child arrangements order which will state who the child will live with as well as when and where contact will be arranged for the parent who has not obtained full custody of the child. Issues surrounding the welfare of the child will also be taken into consideration.
Make Application for Residence Order
In the majority of situations, a child arrangement (formerly residence order) is granted when a married couple are going through a divorce or they have decided to separate after a long term relationship. Occasionally there may be other situations where a residence order may be required. Such scenarios could be when one parent is not biologically related to the child or when the individual is a relative or a guardian.
It is important to understand also that not everyone can make an application to the court for a child arrangement order and only the following individuals can apply;
- A parent or guardian
- Any individual who is recognised as holding full parental responsibility for the child
- An individual who is married or in a civil partnership but the child belongs to the family
- Any individual who holds a child arrangement order for the child or an individual who has lived with the child for at least three years
The law states that an application for a child arrangements order can be made by anyone who has parental responsibility for the child. Even an individual who is not biologically related to the child can do so. If the individual wanting to make the application still wishes to apply for an order, they must firstly obtain the court’s permission.
The role of solicitors
Solicitors specialising in family law can help parents who are in the middle of a complex legal dispute over children, regardless of whether they proceed to court for a residence order. Going to court should be the last resort after all other avenues have been explored. Solicitors play a key role in providing advice, acting as advocates, drafting legal documentation and helping all parties reach agreements.
In relation to a child arrangement order a solicitor is able to;
- Offer detailed legal advice for parents who are trying to reach an agreement over custody with an ex partner or spouse
- Advise grandparents or other relatives who wish to seek permission from the court to apply for an arrangement order
- Facilitate the mediation process and advise accordingly
- Provide assistance with completing firms and legal documents
- Coordinating the application process and filing documents with the court
- Drafting and sending the application for a child arrangements order
- Assist with the collection of evidence and supporting information required for hearings
The Child Arrangements Order Process
When a couple decide to go their separate ways after the breakdown of a marriage usually they can agree where the children will live. Sometimes however parents can’t agree and this is when a child arrangement order may be sought.
If parents cannot agree about where children will live the first step in the process is to embark on mediation. This commences with a mediation information and assessment meeting which both parents must attend.
During the meeting, parents will discuss important issues with a trained mediator present to determine whether the custody dispute can be resolved through mediation. If the mediator reaches a decision that the mediation will result in a successful outcome, they will provide recommendations that the parents attend multiple mediation sessions. The role of the mediator is to help parents reach a mutually agreeable decision about their children and custody.
If on the other hand the mediator believes that it will not work, and the parents cannot resolve the dispute or if mediation is tried and a resolution cannot be reached, the next step would be to make an application to the court for a residence order.
Applying to the Court
After an application is made to the court for a child arrangement order, the court will schedule in what they call a directions hearing. This is held and mediated by a judge or magistrate and both parents or guardians must be in attendance along with an Office of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) to facilitate the court hearing.
At the initial hearing, it is the responsibility of the magistrate or judge to encourage parents to reach an agreement keeping the best interests of the child in mind. Where possible the court hope to reach a suitable agreement in the first hearing. If this does not happen a judge or magistrate can schedule in additional meetings as required.
Where the judge or magistrate instructs that additional hearings are required the parents may be asked to supply evidence, call witnesses or produce a witness statement themselves. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) may also be asked to step in so they can represent the views of the child to the court.
The individual from CAFCASS may also be able to offer recommendations to the court to help them reach a decision.
A final hearing will take place where the court will review all evidence and statements which have been presented before reaching a final decision which will create an order.
There are many things that a court will consider when making a child arrangements order. It is important that any order always puts the child’s interests at the forefront of any decisions.
The welfare of the child is the most important factor and when making a decision the court must take into consideration;
- The feelings and wishes of the child
- The educational, emotional and physical needs of the child
- If the child has been or may be subject to any kind of abuse or neglect
- The ability of each parent or guardian to meet the needs of the child
- Whether the order will result in a change of circumstances for the child
A child arrangements order will outline a number of conditions about who the child will live with and who they can be in contact with. This will include factors such as;
- Identifying the custodial and non custodial parents or guardians of the child
- When the child will spend time with the parent who has not obtained custody of the child and where the contact will take place
Other types of contact that the child will have with the non-custodial parent such as email, phone or text.
There are four different kinds of child arrangement orders. In the majority of cases, it will be a residence order which will simply state where the children lives. A contact order will identify when the child will have contact with the non-custodial parent.
Specific Issue Order
Another type of child arrangement order is referred to as a specific issue order which will stipulate specific aspects of the child’s upbringing. This type of order will state where the child is to go to school, whether they have a particular religious requirement and whether there are any reasons why it is in their interests to change their surname.
The final type of child arrangement order is known as the prohibited steps order which stops the non-custodial parent from certain things such as removing the child from school or taking them out of the country.
Child arrangement orders are a complex area of law. In the majority of cases where parents separate, a mutual decision can be reached and informal arrangements are made about the child.
Where a separation is not amicable and it is not possible to reach a decision, a child arrangements or residence order may be the only way to proceed.
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