The end of any relationship can be a strenuous and challenging time. Rife with emotion and stress, especially when the split has been particularly acrimonious.
These feelings are compounded when children are involved.
We have sadly seen many cases where offspring get caught in the crossfire of hostile rifts and bitter separations.
You are concerned about the welfare of your children or your legal rights. If you have worries about making decisions with your partner – then we are here to help.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about a Child Arrangement Order.
Do you have any questions regarding child arrangement order? Contact a children law solicitors to assist you through a child arrangement order process.
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
In England and Wales, a Child Arrangement Order legally dictates the ‘timetable’ of who is responsible for the care of a child.
Child arrangements are not part of divorce proceedings in England and Wales. It is therefore essential to ensure that you legally finalise all provisions for your offspring.
What are the alternatives to a Child Arrangement Order?
It is worthwhile exploring all the alternatives to a legal order. This is sometimes preferential to having to attend court.
Some of your options can include:
A Verbal Agreement
If you and your ex can set aside any hurt and bad feeling for the benefit of your children, then try to come to a verbal arrangement. We only recommend this if you can trust that both of you will stick to this agreement. It can sometimes be worth making a parenting plan.
In cases of very acrimonious splits, communication can breakdown altogether. A mediator is an impartial and independent go-between. Thus, they can help keep the lines of communication open and objectively assist with helping you both reach an agreement. Using a mediator does not involve having to go to court, and this can be a favourable option for some.
Often a judge will suggest mediation anyhow. As a result, it is worth attempting this as a form of resolution as early as possible in the process.
How does a Child Arrangement Order work?
If you have exhausted all other options, then it is likely that you will have to pursue a Child Arrangement Order through the courts.
To navigate you through the process, we recommend that you seek advice and guidance from a reputable family law solicitor. This is for a multitude of reasons.
These can include:
- You will already be going through a difficult and emotional time. Having to wade your way through unfamiliar processes and complex court forms can often add stress to an already tricky situation.
- A solicitor can manage your expectations. Moreover, they will be able to guide you. They will find ways to improve the outcome for you and your loved ones.
- A solicitor will work for you and in your best interests. During a time of painful upheaval, having professional fighting for your future can be a source of comfort and empowerment.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order references Section 8 of The Children’s Act 1989. Subsequently, not everyone is eligible to apply for an Order unless they have the express permission of the courts.
You can apply for a Child Arrangement Order if you:
- Are a parent, guardian, or special guardian of the child.
- Have parental responsibility.
- Already have a Residence Order for the child.
- Are a spouse or civil partner of the family in question.
- Have lived with the child for more than three years.
It is worth noting that grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply unless they meet one of the above criteria. However, they can contact the courts to get permission to apply for a Child Arrangement Order.
Finally, it is also important to note that a person does not have to be biologically related to applying for an order.
What is Parental Responsibility?
Legal parental responsibility is classified as follows:
- You have automatic parental responsibility if you are the child’s natural mother.
- If you are a father named on the birth certificate or you were married to the mother of the child when they were born (after December 2003)
- Step-parents and unmarried fathers only have parental responsibility if a parental responsibility agreement or order has been obtained.
How do I apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
You will need to fill in a C100 form and send it to the courts along with a £215 payment. If you are on a low income or benefits, you may be eligible for financial assistance with this. Find out more here.
What happens when I apply?
A court will arrange a ‘directions hearing’ and both parents need to be present. At this hearing, the judge will determine:
- What you can agree
- What you cannot agree
- Whether your child is at risk
If you cannot reach a decision at this initial hearing, a judge will set out a timetable of what will happen next.
Options can sometimes include:
- Meeting with a mediator.
- Attending a course known as a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’. This course is designed to help you, and your ex finds ways to
- make child arrangements work.
What does the order dictate?
A Child Arrangement Order is expertly tailor-made to individual circumstances. There is no such thing as a ‘standard’ arrangement.
Before finalising an order, a judge will often consider:
- The child’s wishes and feelings
- Any physical, emotional, and educational needs
- The effect any adjustments may have on the child
- Their age, gender, traits, and background
- Whether the child is at risk
- Whether the parents can meet the child’s needs
The court will always respect personal need, family circumstance and the best interests of the child.
Therefore, an order can sometimes include restrictions on:
- Whom the child will live with
- Whom the child can have contact with
- When the child will spend time with a parent
- What types of contact will take place (for example, phone calls)
- How the children will be financially supported
- What school they will attend
When the order is made – what happens?
Once the courts have finalised an order, the person (or people) named on the order have parental legal responsibility for the child or children. Hence, this will continue until the order comes to an end.
How long does the order last?
The arrangements set out in the order remain legally binding until the child reaches 16 years of age unless the order states otherwise. This is as per The Child Protection Act 1989.
Additionally, once the child has reached 16, they can make decisions on how they want to proceed and how much contact they wish to have with the parent they do not live with.
Likewise, the ‘live with’ element of the order remains legally binding until the child reaches the age of 18.
What happens if an order is breached?
Once the court has issued the final order, it is monitored or supervised to ensure all parties adhere to it.
If an order is breached, a court can take action. Yet, a judge will have to be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that a person has failed to comply.
The court will not make an Enforcement Order if it is satisfied that the person had a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with the order.
When issuing an Enforcement Order, a court can sanction a fine, a warning, community service or prison sentence.
To initiate the process for an Enforcement Order, you will need to follow the following steps:
1. Fill in form C79
2. Use form C78 to attach a ‘warning notice’ if your order was made before 8th December 2008. Orders made after this date will already include a ‘warning notice’.
3. Send it to your local court, including the £215 fee.
Can an order be changed?
It is only natural that family circumstances change and sometimes a court order needs to reflect these adaptations. Therefore, you can apply for a variation on an existing Child Arrangement Order. The application requires you to prove that the amendments will be fully in the best interests of the child.
If a court order is no longer relevant to you or your children or is no longer working, you can apply to end (discharge) the court order by using form C100.
Looking for a Children Solicitor!Are you trying to agree on changing the arrangements with the other parent? Hire a competent and experienced children solicitor to have the law on your side!
What happens if my ex and I decide to depart from the order?
Technically, if all parties to the Child Arrangement Order agree about any changes or alterations, then it would not be classified as a breach.
However, you should be aware that these voluntary or verbal changes are not legally binding unless the courts officially vary the order.
We fully understand how difficult it can be to navigate your way through a separation or divorce, mainly when children are involved.
To ensure that you are safeguarding your future and that of your children, contact one of our expert family law solicitors today to discuss your options and whether a Child Arrangement Order is best for your circumstances.
Related article: Child Arrangement Order – How does it work?
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