Child Arrangements Order Solicitors
When parents separate, it is not always possible to agree child arrangements amicably. Applying to a court for a Child Arrangements Order offers a way to decide where children should live and what contact they should have with a non-resident parent.
Court proceedings can be a daunting prospect, especially where children are involved. It is essential to have the best legal and personal support to ensure you get the right outcome for your children and for you. Working with specialist child law experts can make all the difference, both to the arrangements a court will decide and your family’s experience of the process.
At Barcan+Kirby, our highly rated Family Law team support clients across the UK from our offices in Bedminster, Bishopston, Bristol city centre, Kingswood and Thornbury. If you need support with a Child Arrangements Order or any other family law matter, we can offer sensitive, clear expertise to get your family to where you need to be.
We can also advise on Specific Issue Orders (for things such as changes of school or to relocate either internally or internationally) and Prohibited Steps Orders (to prevent a parent from taking a specific action involving a child e.g. removing them from the UK).
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is a court order that can be used to decide with whom a child will live, who they will spend time with and who they will have contact with. They are used where parents cannot agree these arrangements between themselves and (in exceptional circumstances) where other family members wish to secure contact with a child.
Parents must make an application to a court for a Child Arrangements Order. They will usually need to show that they have considered alternative avenues, such as mediation, first.
Making an application and dealing with the subsequent court proceedings can be very complicated, both legally and emotionally. It is, therefore, sensible to seek specialist legal advice at an early stage to give the best chance of success and make sure you have close personal support throughout the process.
With the right early advice, it is often possible to secure an agreement with your partner about child arrangements, avoiding the need for costly, stressful and lengthy court proceedings. However, if a court order is needed, having the best possible team in your corner can make the whole process a lot easier on you and your children.
Looking for more information? Please take a look at our Child Arrangements Order FAQs or get in touch to discuss your case with a member of our team.
Why choose Barcan+Kirby for help with Child Arrangements Orders?
There are many reasons to work with our experts if you need a Child Arrangements Order for a separation or divorce with children, including:
- Extensive expertise in contentious child law matters, including in situations involving domestic abuse allegations
- Ranked by Chambers and Partners UK for our Family/Matrimonial expertise
- Family Law and Children Law accredited by the Law Society
- Ranked by the Legal 500 for Family
- All of our Family Law team are members of Resolution, the UK’s leading professional network for family lawyers
In addition to our own expertise, we are highly experienced in liaising with other relevant professionals to ensure your case is as strong as possible, and that you and your children get the full support you need.
Child Arrangements Order FAQs
Unfortunately, there is no standard timeline for getting a Child Arrangements Order. How long it takes will depend on the situation, in particular, how quickly court hearings can be scheduled.
In our experience, it typically takes around 6-12 months to get a Child Arrangements Order in place, however, the reality is that it can take longer in some cases.
There are various stages to the process of obtaining a Child Arrangements Order:
- Before making an application, the applicant must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is a chance to explore whether a voluntary agreement can be reached through mediation, avoiding the need for court proceedings. If you still wish to proceed with the court application, you will need a signed form to show you attended the MIAM.
- Either parent can then apply for a Child Arrangements Order. The application must include a brief statement of the issues the parents cannot agree on, a supplementary information form if there is risk of harm to the child or the parent making the application and a range of other paperwork. It is important this paperwork is all completed correctly to avoid any delays or risk undermining your position.
- Cafcass (Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will be passed the application papers, will undertake initial screening checks with the police and social services and often a Cafcass officer will have a brief telephone interview with both parties. They will then prepare a letter for the court summarising their enquiries and making recommendations as to what steps they feel the court needs to take in order to move the case on.
- The Court will then either list the case for an initial attended hearing (First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment Hearing, known as a FHDRA) or a Triage hearing. At an attended FHDRA (with attendance either being in person or remote, something determined by the Court), the court will:
- Review the application papers and initial letter prepared by Cafcass
- Hear submissions from the parents or their legal representatives if they are represented
- Hear from the Duty Cafcass Officer if one is in attendance; and then
- Decide how the case will move forward, in the event of there being no final agreement in terms of future childcare and contact arrangements.
- In some cases, it may be possible for final orders to be made at this first hearing.
- In many cases, a second hearing (Dispute Resolution Appointment hearing, known as the DRA) may be needed. This may occur if the court feels more evidence is needed. This might be in the form of written statements from the parents and/or relevant experts. The court may order a report by an officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), who will make recommendations.
- A final hearing may then be needed for the court to issue a decision. This gives the court time to consider the evidence before making a final determination as to the future care and contact arrangements of the subject child or children.
The court will often consider the ascertainable wishes of the children, but how much weight it gives to their wishes will depend on the age of the children and how well the court believes they understand the circumstances and consequences of the decision.
As well as considering the wishes of the children, the court will also normally look at:
- The children’s needs (including physical, emotional and educational)
- Each parent’s ability to meet those needs
- What impact any change in circumstances will have on the child/children
- How the child’s age, sex, background and other characteristics may affect the impact of different potential child arrangements
- Any harm the child may have experienced or be at risk of experiencing
Both parents will need to carefully consider these factors when preparing their submissions to the court, including providing any necessary supporting evidence.
While people often refer to a child’s ‘custody’ or ‘custody of children’, these terms are not used by the courts or family lawyers. Instead, we talk about who a child will live with. A court can specify that a child will live with just one parent or they can specify shared care in the Child Arrangements Order.
Yes, a Child Arrangements Order is legally binding on all of the parties named in the order. Failure to stick to the terms of an order can result in an Enforcement Order being issued by the court, which can include sanctions ranging from a warning to a fine, community service or even a prison sentence. It is, therefore, vital to take the terms of a Child Arrangements Order seriously.
A standalone order relating to contact will last until the child or children reach the age of 16. An order stating who the child or children will live with will last until the child reaches the age of 18.
Nothing happens automatically if you or your former partner break the terms of a Child Arrangements Order. A court will only take action if one of the parents applies for an Enforcement Order to make the other comply with the terms of the original order.
The court could make an Enforcement Order if it accepts that the terms of the Child Arrangements Order have been breached and that the person responsible did not have a reasonable excuse for doing so. An Enforcement Order can include sanctions such as a warning, fine, community service or even a prison sentence in the most severe cases.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an ‘interim’ Child Arrangements Order. However, the court can make an order that lasts for a set period of time or until the date of a further hearing or order, so that temporary arrangements can be established while parents are waiting for court hearings to take place to determine more permanent arrangements. They can be used to decide where a child will live or what contact they should have with a non-resident parent in the short term.
Yes, if you need to change the terms of a Child Arrangements Order, you can apply to a court to vary the original order. An important point to bear in mind when making an application is that you will need to show that the proposed changes are in the child’s or children’s best interests.
All parties to the order will need to be informed about the application and will have the chance to make submissions to the court in support of what they think the arrangements should be (either continuing the terms of the original order or changing them).
Where appropriate, it can be a good idea to discuss any changes you would like to make with your former partner before making an application, as this can reduce the likelihood of them opposing the changes. However, we recognise that this may not be appropriate in some situations and it is important to recognise that any voluntarily agreed variation of the terms will not be legally binding.
Useful information about Child Arrangements Orders
- What’s the difference between a Special Guardianship Order and a Child Arrangements Order?
- Do grandparents have a legal right to see their grandchildren?