A Child Arrangements Order is an order granted by the Family Court which sets out the following:
- with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and;
- when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.
In the majority of cases a child’s parents/wider family are able to reach an agreement outside of court regarding living arrangements and contact and therefore a Child Arrangements Order is not required.
When is it necessary to apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
It may be necessary to apply for a Child Arrangements Order if there is an ongoing dispute regarding the contact and/or living arrangements for a child. Applying to court is a last resort and the parties involved are strongly encouraged to resolve the dispute outside of court where possible.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
Ordinarily, disputes are between a child’s biological mother and father and they are able to apply directly to court for a Child Arrangements Order. However, anyone is entitled to apply for a Child Arrangements Order but they are required to obtain the permission of the court prior to doing so, for example, step-parents, uncles, grandparents. The application for permission is required in order to determine if the applicant has a sufficient connection and interest to the child concerned.
Is a Child Arrangements Order legally binding?
Yes. A Child Arrangements Order is legally binding. Agreements made outside of court, including mediation agreements, are not legally binding unless it is formalised through the means of a consent order.
Will I have to attend court in order to obtain a Child Arrangements Order?
Yes. It is likely that several court hearings will be required in order to determine the dispute and the parties are strongly encouraged to attend the court hearings in order to put forward their side.
What does the court consider in deciding the terms of a Child Arrangements Order?
The overriding consideration in family proceedings is the question of “what is in the best interests of the child/children?” In answering this question, the court and other professionals are guided by a criteria known as the Welfare Checklist. This can be found in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989. The Welfare Checklist requires the court to consider:
- the wishes and feelings of the child concerned (if they have sufficient understanding and maturity);
- the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances; and
- the child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision.
How do I apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
The applicant is required to attempt mediation prior to applying to court for a Child Arrangements Order. There are several exemptions to mediation available which include, but are not limited to:
- There being a history of domestic violence.
- The respondent being resident in a country outside of England.
- The children being on a child protection plan.
If mediation is unsuccessful and the dispute remains unresolved, the next step would be for the applicant to apply to the Family court for a Child Arrangements Order. The relevant court form is C100 and there is a fee associated with this application of £215. There is a fee exemption form available if the applicant is on a low income or in receipt of income-based benefits and the name of this form is EX160. Court forms are accessible from any Family Court or from www.justice.gov.uk.
What can I do if a Child Arrangements Order is not being complied with?
An application for enforcement can be made to court on a C79 form. A court hearing will be set and the Judge will determine if a breach of the court order has occurred. The Judge will provide an opportunity to the offending party to provide justification for why they have acted in breach of the order. There is a variety of sanctions which can be enforced that include a fine, community work and in extreme circumstances, imprisonment.
What can I do if circumstances have changed and I wish to change the terms of the Child Arrangements Order?
An application can be made to court on a C100 form for a variation of a Child Arrangements Order if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the order was granted. This would require the court to consider if the order should be varied in light of the change in circumstances.
When does a Child Arrangements Order come to an end?
The contact element to a Child Arrangements Order expires at 16 (unless explicitly stated otherwise) whereas the living arrangements element expires at 18 (unless explicitly stated otherwise).
It is also worth noting that the court will not make a Child Arrangements Order concerning a child who has reached the age of sixteen unless it is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional.
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For further information please visit https://childlawadvice.org.uk/ and other legal advice and information surrounding Relationship Breakdowns and Parental Disputes as well as areas of Child and Education Law. Child Law Advice operates an advice service ran by fully trained family, child and education law advisors. Topics covered include areas of Family, Child and Education Law. Advice can be sought from either email advice forms found here: https://childlawadvice.org.uk/email-advice-service/ or via our advice line details can be found https://childlawadvice.org.uk/clas/contact-child-law-advice/
This information is correct at the time of writing (24.04.2018). The law in this area is subject to change. The Dadsnet and Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use. Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.