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What is the Child Arrangement Order process?

Often in the unfortunate instance of a relationship breakdown or divorce, making arrangements for where and with whom any children will spend their time is contentious and it can often be hard for the parties to come to an agreement. 

By law, the welfare of the children in a family must come first during any relationship breakdown. If mediation isn’t effective, it may be necessary to obtain a Child Arrangement Order from the court to come to an agreement which is in the best interests of the child. 

What is a Child Arrangement Order? 

A ‘child arrangements order’ is obtained through the family court system and details: 

  • where the child predominantly lives, and when they will spend time in other locations
  • when the child spends time with each parent
  • when and what other types of contact take place (phone calls, for example)

Family courts will make these decisions with the best interests of the child operating as their primary consideration. What is in the best interests of a child will depend on the particular circumstances of each family, meaning there is no ‘typical’ model for an arrangement. 

The residential element of a Child Arrangement Order remains legally binding until the child reaches the age of 18. Beyond the age of 16, however, a court may be unlikely to enforce this except in exceptional circumstances. 

‘Child arrangements orders’ replace ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’. Parents with these orders do not need to re-apply. Child Arrangement Orders are different to ‘specific issue’ orders which address a particular question regarding how the child is brought up, for example: schooling and religion. These do not address fundamental issues such as the child’s primary residence.  

Why would this Order be arranged for a child? 

The most common circumstance in which a Child Arrangement Order is used is in the event that the child’s biological parents separate and cannot agree on how the child divides their time between the two parties. 

However, lots of circumstances can result in a Child Arrangement Order being requested. Anyone with parental responsibility over the child has the automatic right to make an application. Other people in the child’s life, who may not necessarily have parental responsibility or guardianship, such as a step parent, guardian, grandparent, or other relative, can also apply, though they will need to seek permission from the court first. 

For example, Grandparents may seek a Child Arrangement order if they feel access to their grandchild is being unfairly restricted, however, if they are not the child’s legal guardian, they will need to seek permission from the court before seeking a Child Arrangement Order.

How do you make an application for a Child Arrangement Order? 

Apart from exceptional circumstances, such as when domestic violence has taken place, the parties must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying for a Child Arrangement Order. 

A qualified family law solicitor can advise you throughout this stage in the process, before and after the meeting and advise on next steps, though do have in mind that they wouldn’t be in the room with you during the mediation meeting. It is important to note that any agreement made during mediation isn’t automatically legally binding.

If mediation is unsuccessful in helping you come to an agreement, you can begin the online application to the court for a Child Arrangement Order. A copy of your paperwork will be sent to the court, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CFCASS), and the other party involved, typically the other parent, who has 14 days to respond and fill in their own paperwork. It will then typically take 6 to 8 weeks from the time you apply, until you have a preliminary court hearing by which time CFCASS will have conducted checks on both parties and will advise the court on how to proceed to ensure the welfare of the child is prioritised. 

The whole process can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months depending on the specific circumstances of your case and whether there are safeguarding concerns.

Can a Child Arrangement Order be changed?

If both parties agree, you can informally make amendments to a Child Arrangement Order. It is always sensible to get any changes in writing. You can also make a formal application to the court to make changes to the Order. 

What is the cost?

It costs £232 to apply for a court order, plus any solicitors fees. Get in contact with Eric Robinson Solicitors today to discuss your specific needs with us and we can give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay.

How Eric Robinson Solicitors can help

If you’re looking to come to an agreement with an ex-partner, need advice regarding making arrangements for your children after divorce, or are looking to seek a Child Arrangement Order for your child, grandchild, stepchild or relative, speak to one of our team today. 

We have solicitor offices located in Southampton (Hedge End & Bitterne), Winchester, Lymington, London (Richmond) and Chandlers Ford.

Our team of specialist Family Law Solicitors are on hand to answer any questions you may have.