Child Arrangements Orders
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is a document which has been decided by a judge in the Family Tribunal. This is a document which sets out the living and contact arrangements for the child or children which it relates to. Child Arrangement Orders are based on the best interests of the child or children. The Order can include details about whom the child(ren) will live (not the address) and who can have contact with them. The Order can set out the meaning of contact being, direct or indirect (letters, email, and messages), overnight stays, telephone, or supervised visits).
Can a Child Arrangements Order be Changed or Amended?
Courts understand that as a child grows their needs may change. Accordingly, if it can be demonstrated that the child(ren)’s circumstances have changed an application can be made to vary the Order.
What happens if someone does not stick to the terms of (breach) a Child Arrangements Order?
Breaching a Child Arrangements Order is enforceable by the Court. However, Orders are not monitored and as such a formal application for enforcement needs to be made. The Court needs to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the defending party has failed to comply with the Order in accordance with S.11 of the Children Act 1989.
If there has been a breach, the Court can impose a warning, fine, community service, or a prison sentence (which is rare).
The defending party must show that they had a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with the Order to avoid a sanction being imposed.
How long does a Child Arrangements Order last?
Child Arrangements Orders which deal with where a child is to live will usually last until that child reaches the age of 18 years. However, enforceability of breaches is more difficult beyond the child(ren)’s age of 16 as the Court is reluctant to enforce such orders unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Child Arrangements orders which deal with contact usually last until the child reaches 16 but can last until they are 18 if this is deemed necessary by the Court.
Do we need a Child Arrangement Order?
If the parents or guardians of the child(ren) cannot decide the best interests of a child, a Child Arrangements Order can provide clarity and certainty. It is always better to try and agree the details of arrangements for the care of children amicably. However, this is not always possible.
How do I obtain a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is applied for using the C100 form and by paying the necessary fee. This application can be made online on the www.gov.uk website. Alternatively, an application can be made on paper using the same form.
Before an application is submitted, you will need to have considered whether mediation is appropriate by attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). There are some exceptions to this, such as where there is alleged domestic abuse for example.
You will have to send your form and three copies to the nearest Court that deals with cases involving children.
What are the stages in Children Act Proceedings?
After your application has been submitted, the Court will arrange a ‘directions hearing’. This is usually attended by both parents and a representative from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). CAFCASS will contact you before the hearing too.
CAFCASS may produce a report on the best interests of the child(ren) to help the Court decide how to proceed. The parents will get a copy of the report when it is written too.
At the directions hearing the judge will consider what you can agree on and where the gaps are. They will also review whether the child(ren) is at risk in any way too.
Parental Encouragement to Agree Outcomes
The judge will encourage you to talk and agree the terms, if possible. They will then make a Consent Order which details what you have agreed between you.
Where No Agreement is Reached
If you cannot agree the terms at the directions hearing, the judge will direct what happens next. They may instruct that you use mediation or try again to reach an agreement.
You may be required to attend a child arrangements course called a Separated Parents Information programme. If so, you and your ex-partner will attend different meetings so that you will not need to see each other.
Court Imposed Orders
If the Court must make an Order, the welfare and best interests of children are paramount. The Court will consider the following:
- The child’s wishes and feelings
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The effect any changes may have on the child
- The child’s age, gender, characteristics and background
- Whether there is possible risk of harm to the child
- The ability of parents to meet the child’s needs
- The orders the court has the power to make
Making Changes to an Existing Application
It is possible to change an existing application. You need to use form C2 and pay the relevant fee. It is more expensive to ask the Court to make the decisions and cheaper if you simply want the Court to approve your agreement by way of a Consent Order.
What are Children Act 1989 proceedings?
Children Act 1989 proceedings set out the rules for applications from those with Parental Responsibility for the welfare of a child or children. Applications are made under Section 8 of the Act and include Child Arrangements Orders; Prohibited Steps Orders; and Specific Issue Orders.
- Child Arrangements Orders regulate the arrangements concerning where a child is to live, who they have contact with and spend time with.
- Prohibited Steps Orders prevent a parent or any other person from doing something listed in the Order without the consent of the Court.
- Specific Issue Orders provide directions in respect of specific issues or question which have arisen in connection with the parental responsibility for the child.
Government Guidance states that applications can be made without the consent of the Court by the following specified people:
- parent (including an unmarried father), guardian or special guardian;
- a stepparent who has acquired parental responsibility; and
- where a child arrangements order is in force, any person named in that order as a person with whom a child is to live.
The following people may apply for a child arrangements order:
- any party to a marriage or civil partnership in relation to which the child is a child of the family (primarily step parents who have not acquired PR);
- any person with whom the child has lived for a period of at least 3 years;
- where a child arrangements order is in force, any person who has the consent of each of the persons named in the order as a person with whom the child is to live;
- where the child is in the care of the local authority, any person who has the consent of the local authority; or
- any person who has the consent of each of those with parental responsibility.
- a relative of the child may apply for a child arrangements order which sets out with whom the child is to live, providing that he/she has cared for the child for at least one year immediately preceding the application.
- a local authority foster carer may apply for a child arrangements order which sets out with whom the child is to live, provided that he/she has cared for the child for at least one year immediately preceding the application
What are Fact Finding Hearings in Children Act Proceedings?
A Fact Finding Hearing is used to help the judge decide “on the balance of probabilities” whether an alleged incident took place. The Court will decide whether a Fact Finding Hearing is necessary and when it should take place.
The core purpose of a Fact Finding Hearing in Children Act matters is to assess whether there is a material risk to harm to the child(ren) and will be directly relevant to the determination of the Child Arrangements Order.
Who is CAFCASS and what do they do?
Cafcass stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Cafcass represents children in family court cases in England. They independently advise the family courts about what is safe for children and in their best interests.
Cafcass works independently of the courts, social services, education and health authorities and all similar agencies. Their duty is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children going through the family justice system.
They may be asked by the court to work with families and then advise the court on what they consider to be the best interests of the children involved in three main areas:
- divorce and separation;
- care proceedings; and
Sima is experienced in all Children Act 1989 Proceedings. If you need assistance with any of the above issues or require support with your application, please contact Sima directly by calling 02073531746 or via email: email@example.com.