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What is a Child Arrangement Order?

Our People - Loretta Orsi-Barzanti
4 March, 2024

Separation can be a difficult time for families, especially when it comes to children’s well-being. A Child Arrangement Order is a legal framework established by a court to ensure that children have consistent and healthy relationships with both parents after separation. It addresses key aspects like where the child will live, how often they will see the other parent, and how major decisions are made regarding their upbringing.

Making child arrangements after separation

In essence, a Child Arrangements Order is a court order which deals with arrangements relating to: 

  • Living arrangements: Who the child lives with primarily and whether there are shared living arrangements.
  • Contact schedule: When and how the child spends time with the non-resident parent.
  • Decision-making responsibility: How major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing are made.
  • Special arrangements: Specific details relating to holidays, school events, or other situations.

It’s important to know that the term “custody” is no longer used in legal contexts. Instead, “Child Arrangement Orders” are the current way courts determine where children will live and how they will spend time with each parent when agreements cannot be reached outside of court. 

Can I make child arrangements without going to court?

Exploring options outside of court is generally recommended for child arrangements. Judges often look for evidence that you’ve attempted alternative solutions before involving the court, and these options can also be quicker, cheaper, and less stressful.

You have several options for making child arrangements without going to court, including informal agreements, formal agreements through legal assistance, mediation, or attending a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).

How can I apply for a Child Arrangements Order?

If reaching an agreement outside of court proves unsuccessful, seeking legal help can guide you through the process of applying to court to see your child. A family lawyer can assist you with the application and help with the legal complexities involved. While representing yourself in court is an option, important factors need careful consideration.

It’s important to note that:

  • Compliance with court orders is crucial: Once an application is made, adhering to court orders on time and accurately is paramount. Disregarding orders, even unintentionally, can have significant financial and legal consequences.
  • Seeking legal guidance is highly recommended: We strongly advise seeking a solicitor’s advice before making any court application. This advice applies especially if you are able to afford it or qualify for legal aid. A family lawyer can ensure your understanding of the process, maximise your chances of success, and mitigate potential risks.

What are the key factors courts consider in child arrangement cases?

The court prioritises the child’s well-being above all else when determining child arrangements after separation. Several factors guide the court’s decision, including the child’s needs, relationships with each parent, parental capacity, and any potential harm.

Here’s a summary of the key factors courts consider in child arrangement cases:

1. The welfare of the child

This is the paramount principle guiding all decisions, and it encompasses the child’s:

  • Physical, emotional, and educational needs: Ensuring the child has access to adequate housing, healthcare, education, and emotional support is crucial.
  • Safety and well-being: Protecting the child from any potential harm, neglect, or abuse is a primary concern.
  • Wishes and feelings: The court considers the child’s wishes and feelings, taking into account their age and maturity. However, these are not always the determining factor, especially if the child’s wishes could be detrimental to their well-being.

2. The child’s relationship with each parent

The court assesses the quality of the child’s relationship with each parent and their ability to meet the child’s needs. Existing bonds and the potential impact of changing living arrangements are considered.

3. The capacity of each parent

The court evaluates each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs in a stable and nurturing environment. This includes assessing factors like parenting skills, mental and physical health, and housing and financial stability.

4. Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering

The court considers any past or potential harm the child might face in each parent’s care, including physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or exposure to domestic violence.

5. Any other relevant factors

The court may also consider other relevant factors, such as the child’s cultural background, existing family relationships, including siblings and grandparents, stability of the child’s environment, and any proposals or agreements put forward by parents.

Are Child Arrangement Orders enforceable?

Yes, you can enforce a Child Arrangements Order in the UK by applying to the court using form C79. This form can be used to ask the court to enforce the child arrangements order if the order is not being complied with.

How long do Child Arrangement Orders last?

While most Child Arrangement Orders end when the child reaches 16 years old, there are exceptions. In specific circumstances, the order may remain in effect until the child turns 18.

Who can apply for a Child Arrangement Order?

Several individuals or entities can apply for a Child Arrangement Order:

  • Parents and Guardians: This includes biological parents and legal guardians who hold parental responsibility for the child.
  • Stepparents: Stepparents can apply if they have lived with the child for at least three years within the last five years and submit the application within three months of the child no longer living with them.

In addition to the above, an application can be made if:

  • Consent is obtained: The applicant seeks and receives the consent of the person currently holding parental responsibility for the child (e.g., existing Child Arrangement Order holder or Local Authority with the child in care).
  • Grandparents or others: Individuals without parental responsibility, like grandparents, may apply with the court’s permission.

Contact a Specialist Children Law Solicitor

If you would like any help or advice on child arrangements orders or have any issues relating to child proceedings, our dedicated team of Family Lawyers are there for you. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialist Children Law Solicitors or get in touch on 020 8492 2290.

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