Child arrangement orders

When a marriage or partnership comes to an end, there’s a whole host of factors that couples must take into consideration from finances to relocation. However, one of the most difficult factors can be organising child arrangement orders.

Of course, parents always want what’s best for their children, but it’s not always a simple process. Parents may also be unaware of their legal footing or perhaps might be confused by the whole process.

Not to worry, read on and soon you’ll know everything you need to know to navigate child arrangement orders in the most efficient and effective way.

This article will explain:

  • What a child arrangement order is
  • Who can make a child arrangement order
  • How long child arrangement orders last
  • What conditions are included
  • What factors are considered during the process
  • What stages are involved
  • What happens when a child arrangement order is breached

What is a child arrangement order?

A child arrangement order is a legal agreement set out by the court which outlines how a divorcing or separating couple will create plans, schedules and commitments for their children.

These kinds of orders are typically utilised when couples are unable to reach an agreement on parenting arrangements. There are also two kinds of child arrangement orders, the first outlines which parent a child will live with and the second outlines who a child will spend time with.

Who can make a child arrangement order?

While child arrangements orders are typically used when a married couple are going through a divorce, or when unmarried couples with children separate, that’s not always the case. Child arrangement orders are used in a number of different scenarios, including when a non-biological parent or a guardian seeks custody.

That being said, only some individuals can apply for a child arrangement order. This includes:

  • A parent or guardian
  • Grandparents
  • Individuals with parental responsibilities for the children
  • Individuals with a residence order, or an individual who has lived with the child for three years or more

How long do child arrangement orders last?

A child arrangements order will typically last until a child reaches the age of 16. However, a child arrangement order specifically relating to where a child will take residence, otherwise known as a “Live with Order”, can go on for another two years, until the child reaches the age of 18.

What conditions are included?

A number of different conditions are outlined in a child arrangement order relating to where a child will take residence, and who they will spend their time with. This includes the following:

  • Who the custodial parent or guardian will be
  • Who the child will live with
  • What kind of communication and contact the child can have with the non-custodial parent
  • Where and when the child will spend time with the non-custodial parent or guardian

What factors are considered in a child arrangement order?

When it comes to child arrangement orders, all decisions must be made with the child or children’s best interests in mind. Of course, this means that a lot of factors will be taken into consideration. Primarily, as outlined in the checklist set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, the courts will consider:

  • What the child/children want to happen
  • The age and gender of the child/children
  • How a change in circumstance could potentially affect the wellbeing of the child/children
  • Whether or not the child has special educational requirements
  • The emotional and physical needs of the child/children
  • If the child/children has been subject to abuse or if they are at risk of abuse
  • Whether the parent or guardian is capable of catering to the child/children’s needs

What stages are involved in the process?

There are a number of steps involved in arranging the orders, and some of these steps may vary depending on the particular case. However, before anything else occurs, a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) must take place, and must be attended by both parents.

Once a MIAM form is obtained, and a meeting is arranged, a trained independent mediator will assess the situation, and decide whether or not mediation will be effective. If mediation takes place and parents are unable to reach an agreement, they will be instructed to to apply to the court. This is done through filing a C100 form. In cases where there are alleged instances of harm or domestic violence, a C1A form must be filed.

Once the court receives the form/s, a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) date will be arranged. At this appointment, the court will assess what each parent or guardian seeks to achieve, assess the situation, and decide on how to proceed. An officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) , may also attend to mediate the situation. If both parents/guardians agree at this stage, then this will be recorded in a binding order. In situations where both parties are unable to agree, another hearing will be scheduled.

During the additional hearings, parties will be required to provide more evidence, and potentially witnesses. An officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is also likely to become more involved in later stages.

If all other hearings have been unsuccessful in helping both parties come to an agreement, then at the final hearing, after reviewing all of the evidence, the court will make a final decision. This finalised decision will take the form of a court order.

What happens in case of a breach?

Unfortunately, child arrangement orders are not always complied with, and breaches do have consequences.

If it is found that a parent/guardian has failed to comply with the child arrangement order, an enforcement order can be applied for through a Form C79.

The enforcement of child arrangement orders is dealt with in Section 11J of the Children Act 1989 and the court will consider a number of factors. This includes:

  • The reasons why the child arrangement order was breached
  • Whether the evidence provided by the parent/guardian launching the order is legitimate
  • Assessing the welfare checklist
  • How the child/children involved feel about the situation
  • The appropriateness of an enforcement order
  • Whether referral for dispute resolution is more appropriate

If the court decides to proceed with the enforcement order, there are a number of different options that may be chosen. This includes:

  • A fine
  • Instruction to attend mediation
  • A compensation order
  • A change in the terms of the child arrangement order
  • An unpaid work requirement of between 40 and 200 hours

Final thoughts

It’s never easy when a family breaks up, and children are separated from their parents. On top of this, familiarising yourself with the processes involved in a child arrangement order can be confusing, and stressful. However, now you have all the information you need to take your next step confidently.

And remember, a child’s safety, welfare and happiness are always the most important factors when pursuing a child arrangement order, so make sure this is the top priority.

Article Created By Madaline Dunn

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