Child Arrangement Orders

Orders available from the Family Court when parents are unable to agree arrangements for their children

Child Arrangements Orders

Child Arrangement Orders are made under Section 8 of the Children Act and have now replaced what were once referred to as contact orders or residence orders. These new child arrangement orders are made in children proceedings and set out with whom a child will live, with whom they will spend time and any other arrangement. Existing contact and residence orders are not affected but the court no longer ‘awards’ contact or residence to one parent. Other Section 8 Children Act orders as to prohibited steps and specific issues are available as before.

Existing contact and residence orders remain unchanged, but the court now makes one order which will deal with both the contact and residence arrangements for a child. Thus, a child arrangements order will decide with whom a child should live and with whom they should have contact. In effect, there is little if any difference between the old and new orders, other than to strengthen the presumption that when a child lives with one parent they should have regular contact with the other.

 

The purpose of the change is to reinforce the importance of children having an on-going relationship with both parents. The principle of joint involvement is prioritised and the court will presume that unless the child’s welfare could be prejudiced, the involvement of both parents in the child’s life will be ordered as being in the child’s best interest.

Changes have also been made in the procedure for applying for an order relating to children. Before an application can now be made, there is in most cases a requirement to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). If following the MIAM an application is made a statutory child arrangements program will be applied designed to encourage resolution outside of the court system.

The law is therefore directed towards encouraging separating parents to discuss and agree the arrangements for their children themselves. Having done so, they should prepare a parenting agreement or parenting plan, which if required, can be approved by a court and given legal effect. We have a Law Guide on Making a Parenting Agreement available for download.

 

Child arrangements orders are subject to the general ‘no order’ principle in the Children Act. Thus, an order will only be made where it can be shown that the making of an order will benefit the child. This does not however create a presumption against an order where, possibly following mediation, matters have been agreed between the parents.

The court may make an order of its own motion. An order cannot be made in favour of the child himself. The court has a wide discretion to attach directions and conditions to any Section 8 order. Such might be detailed in the arrangements as to how the orders should be carried out, or the court might impose conditions to the order which must be complied with by any person, not only the person who has the benefit of the order.

Child arrangements orders can be always be discharged or varied at any time by the court.

A child arrangements order can order that a child should live with more than one person, such as where grandparents and a parent are raising the child either together at the same address or at separate addresses for different parts of the week. The order can include directions and conditions about the time the child will spend with one person or another.

The person a child will live with under a child arrangement order will obtain parental responsibility if they do not already have it, for so long as the order is in force.

Applying for a child arrangements order

Before applying for an order, an applicant must attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). This will be with an approved mediator who, when possible, will see each party together. Information will be provided about mediation, and the ways and advantages of resolving disagreement otherwise than by the court. You will be required to contact a family mediator who, following the meeting, will issue a certificate either confirming the suitability of mediation or indicating that the case is not suitable for mediation. In certain cases, including where there are allegations of domestic violence or risk to the child, the requirement to attend a MIAM may be excused. Where an urgent order is needed, and where giving notice to the other parent would allow the respondent to take steps which would be opposed as not in the child’s interest, the requirement for a MIAM can also be waived.

Once you have attended a MIAM, an application for a child arrangements order can be made using Form C100. You should, whenever possible, attach a parenting plan to the application. The court must then issue the application and fix a hearing date within two days of the application being lodged. They will serve the application and hearing date upon the respondent, unless you have asked to do so. At the same time, a copy of the application and details of the hearing will be sent to CAFCASS. No further evidence can then be filed until ordered to do so.

The application will now be considered by a nominated legal advisor or district judge, who will be known as the ‘gatekeeper’. He will allocate the case to an appropriate level of judge depending upon court resources, the need to avoid delay, complexity, the location of the parties and the need for judicial continuity. Gatekeepers may issue direction on issue which could be to attend mediation before the first hearing or for an early hearing date, where there is apparent urgency.

On receiving notice of the application, CAFCASS will undertake safeguarding inquiries and may make telephone risk identification inquiries with the parties. They will then note any issues, and within 17 days of receiving the application send a ‘safeguarding letter’ to the court.

A first hearing dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA) must be held between 5 and 6 weeks of issue of the application. The respondent must be given as much notice as possible of the hearing, and is required to file a response no later than 10 days before the hearing. Both parties must attend the FHDRA together with the CAFCASS officer, who will speak separately to the parties before the hearing. Throughout the hearing, the CAFCASS officer will endeavour to conciliate and broker agreement, and advise the court on ways to resolve the issues.

Where agreement is reached an order can be made, unless safeguarding checks or risk assessments remain outstanding. If there is no agreement or outstanding matters, the court will give directions and order a further hearing. A decision will be made on issues such as whether a fact finding hearing is needed, the need for expert evidence or a CAFCASS report and the need for a guardian for the child. Court proceedings will be time tabled and may include a dispute resolution appointment (DRA) to take place after a fact finding hearing. Where issues are still not resolved and when all directions have been complied with, a final hearing will take place.

Orders relating to whom the child should spend time (Contact)

The law does not give a parent the right to have contact with his or her child. There is therefore no fundamental parental right of contact within the human rights or legal sense. It is the child who has a right to contact with both parents. To apply to the court on the basis that it is your rights which are being breached by the other parent and to demand that something is done about it is a sure route to failure.

There is the strongest of presumptions that a child should not be deprived of contact with either parent, unless it is shown that it is in the interests of the child that contact should not take place. The courts have said that a decision depriving a child of contact with a parent is an order which the courts should be extremely slow to arrive at. Save in exceptional cases, to deprive the parent of contact was to deprive a child of an important contribution to his or her emotional and material needs, whilst growing up in the long term. Thus, a court should ask itself whether the fundamental emotional need of a child to have an enduring relationship with both parents was outweighed by any harm the child would be at risk of suffering if a contact order was made.

Orders relating to with whom a child should live (Residence)

These orders, previously known as residence orders, are made to decide with whom, not where, a child should live. They are normally made in respect of a child up to the age of 16, but exceptionally may be continued up to the age of 18.

An order will be made deciding with whom the child will live as their primary residence. The parent who has the child living with them is called the resident parent, and the other parent is called the non-resident parent. When the child spends equal time with each parent, for example one week with one parent, another week with the other, then the parents are sometimes said to have shared (or joint) residence of the child.

Based on the fundamental principle of the child’s welfare set out in the Children Act 1989, the order dealing with whom the child should live should interfere as little as possible with the relationship of the child with his or her other parent. Each parent will retain full parental responsibility, and indeed all other rights as a parent. The order simply deals with the question of with whom the child should live and nothing else. It does not in any way interfere with or deplete the non-resident parent’s position as to his child.

The order made should be flexible enough to accommodate all other matters and possible orders that could be required to ensure the child’s welfare. When the court makes an order deciding with whom a child will live, it will almost always make an order dealing with the time to be spent with the other parent.

There will always be a strong presumption that, other things being equal, it is in the interests of the child to remain living with one or other of his natural parents. Judges have referred to the ‘well-established’ ‘natural parent presumption’. The proper approach is for the court to ask itself whether there were cogent reasons which dictated that the child could not live with its parent. Where everything else is equal and both parents are equally capable, the court is most likely to order that the child lives with the parent who has shown themselves most likely to cooperate over contact with the other.

Where there is an order determining with whom the child should live in force, the person in whose favour it has been made can take the child outside England and Wales for up to a month at a time without needing the permission of any other persons who have parental responsibility or the court. This makes holiday trips abroad easier. Therefore, an order may be appropriate in a case where one parent unreasonably withholds consent to normal holiday trips abroad or tends to wait until the last minute when travel has become expensive. Permission will have to be granted however for permanent removal from the jurisdiction or removal of over a month, if the other parent has parental responsibility.

 

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FAQs on child arrangement orders

What has happened to contact orders and residence orders?

The courts are now less bothered about the label it attaches to orders made. The existing contact and residence orders remain unchanged, but will be considered child arrangements orders. The courts will however no longer make ‘contact’ (or, as they were once known, ‘access’) orders or ‘residence’ (or previously ‘custody’) orders. Instead, they are replaced by a child arrangements order. This order will regulate, as before, arrangements relating to with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact. Senior judges have said that the court should first decide the division of time the child spends with each parent and then decide what labels to attach to that division (i.e. contact and residence or shared residence).

What are the intentions of a child arrangements order?

The intentions of the changes are to ensure that both parents are equally involved in the upbringing of their children. Parents are to be encouraged to ‘agree’ arrangements and how the child’s time should be divided, rather than a judge imposing orders upon them. The objective is to move away from terms such as ‘residence’ and ‘contact’, which can in themselves become a source of contention, and to focus on practical issues relevant to the care of the child. Previously, a parent without residence could feel less important in the child’s life. This was not the case, but all parents will now have the same type of order.