A Child Arrangements Order is a Court Order which sets out with whom a child is to live with and with whom a child is to spend time with.
The Order remains legally binding until the child reaches the age of 16 unless the Order specifically states otherwise. The “live with” element remains legally binding until the child reaches the age of 18.
What is the process of getting a Child Arrangements Order?
You can chose how to make arrangements.
You can usually avoid court hearings if you and your ex-partner agree on where the children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. If you want to make your agreement legally binding, a Solicitor can draft a ‘Consent Order’. Both yourself and your ex-partner will need to sign the draft Consent Order and you will need to get the Consent Order approved by the Court. Usually there will be no court hearing and the Judge can approve the consent order if they think that the arrangement is in the best interest of the children. If the Judge does not think it is in the children’s best interest they can change the consent order or make a different court order.
If you are struggling to make an agreement with your ex-partner, you should seek help to agree matters. A mediator who is an independent person, can help to make an agreement without taking sides. If you can make an agreement, you will get a document showing what you agreed, but, this document is not legally binding. You can make it legally binding by getting a solicitor to draft a Consent Order as set out above.
In the event that you cannot make an agreement you will need to apply to court.
Who can apply?
The child’s mother, father or anyone with Parental Responsibility can apply for a court order.
Other people such as grandparents can apply for these Court Orders but they will need permission “leave” from the Court first.
What is Parental Responsibility? Do Parents always have Parental Responsibility?
Parental Responsibility are the legal rights and responsibilities for the child. Your role is to provide a home for the child, protect and maintain the child. You are also responsible for the following:
– Disciplining the child
– Choosing and providing for the child’s education
– Agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
– Naming the child and agreeing to any change of name
– Looking after the child’s property.
*Parents have to ensure that their child is financially supported whether they have Parental Responsibility or not*
A Mother automatically has Parental Responsibility for her child from birth.
A father usually has Parental Responsibility if he’s either:
– Married to the child’s mother
– Listed on the birth certificate (if born after 1st December 2003)
You can apply for Parental Responsibility if you do not automatically have it.
Application for a Child Arrangements Order
Before you apply to Court, you must usually attend a meeting about mediation. This is called a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). You are exempt from mediation in certain cases such as where there has been domestic abuse or if you are applying for a consent order.
The form to complete is the C100. You will also need to complete the C1A form if you are alleging that the children have experienced or are at risk of experiencing harm from any person who has had contact with the child.
You will receive a date to attend court for a hearing known as the First Hearing Directions Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). Prior to the hearing, CAFCASS will use the information in the application to prepare a Safeguarding Report for the Court. Checks will be made with the Police and Social Services to identify any welfare risks.
At the hearing, if no agreement can be made, directions and a timetable for the case will be set. The directions will depend on the issues in the case but can include the filing of statements, disclosure of documents, drug and alcohol testing. If domestic violence is raised as an issue, the Court will need to deal with the allegations of domestic violence before considering contact. The Court may order for a Section 7 Report to be completed by CAFCASS.
There is no ‘usual’ Child Arrangements Order. The case is decided on the circumstances of the family and what is in the best interest of the Child. The timescales for obtaining a Child Arrangements Order depends on the factors on the case. There is no standard time frame and can take between 6 – 12 months to achieve a final order.
What is CAFCASS and what is a Section 7 Report?
CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. CAFCASS are an independent organisation who assist the Court in making a decision.
If the Court order a Section 7 Report, the CAFCASS officer will speak with both parents and will also see and talk to their child if they are considered competent enough in order to find out the child’s wishes and feelings. The CAFCASS officer may also want to speak to the child’s school, doctor, social worker or relatives. The CAFCASS officer will consider all of the information and make a recommendation about what type of contact is appropriate and how often this should take place.
The Court generally place weight on the Section 7 Report and will only depart from the recommendation if there are good reasons for doing so.
How much does a Child Arrangements Order cost?
There is legal aid available if you satisfy the financial criteria. You must also have evidence that you or your child have suffered or are at risk of suffering violence of abuse from the other party involved.
If you want further advice on Child Arrangements Orders or for more information on funding your case please contact us on 01554 755101 or [email protected]
Rachael Carter is a Director at Gomer Williams Solicitors. Rachael has over 8 years experience dealing with all aspects of children matters and is a member of the Law Society’s Children Law Accreditation Scheme.