The welfare and interest of the child is of paramount importance and comes before anything else.
It is important that you understand your children are innocent in this process and whatever the outcome their lives will be affected. We encourage you to reach a sensible arrangement in the best interest of your child(ren).
However, in some situations the Court will need to resolve the dispute and we can provide you with legal advice as to the order required.
Child Arrangements Orders
The main issue that comes before our firm is that in relation to child arrangements i.e. the steps a parent can take when they exercise their rights and responsibilities towards their child. This is also known as exercising their parental responsibility (PR). When parents separate, disputes may arise about where and with whom a child will live, or how much time they will spend with a parent or other person with whom they do not live. If these arrangements cannot be agreed on, it will be necessary to apply to the court for orders deciding these issues.
What are Child Arrangements Orders?
Child arrangements orders regulate with whom and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with a person or person(s) and if matters are not agreed then you will need to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order regulating your child’s living arrangements and the amount of time that child spends with that person. The order will set out when the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with the person named in the order.
Orders regulating a child’s living arrangements
The court may regulate a child’s living arrangements by making an Order of that Court naming the person or persons with whom the child is to live with. If there is an Order for contact then the Order will specify the time that the child will spend with each person and the division of the child’s time between each household need not be equal.
What are the benefits of having a child arrangements order?
Being named as a person with whom a child is to live in a Child Arrangements Order, means that you have the right to take the child abroad for up to one month without the consent of the other parent or the permission of the court but would need to apply to the Court if wanted to take the child abroad for period longer than one month.
A parent who is not named as the person with whom the child lives with does not have this right and would have to apply to the Court if this cannot be agreed.
Orders regulating contact arrangements
If parents are unable to agree the time that a child spends with the other parent, then it will be necessary to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to settle these arrangements. The court may order any of the following types of contact:
- Direct and indirect contact arrangements. Direct contact arrangements involve the child having contact with a named person by visiting or staying with them. Indirect contact is contact by way of letter, e-mail, electronically such as Skype or telephone. Indirect contact arrangements are ordered by the court if it is not appropriate for the child to see the person directly e.g. when there is a potential risk to the child’s well being.
- Overnight and visiting contact arrangements. Direct contact arrangements can involve the child visiting the person a few hours or overnight. Visiting contact arrangements are usually ordered when the child is a baby or young child ad the court may order shorter but more frequent periods of contact. If the application involves an older child, who is more able to care for themselves, overnight contact arrangements are likely to be ordered. Contact arrangements can also be gradual and a matter of working progress. This would apply if the non-resident parent, contact arrangements may begin as indirect arrangements to help introduce the child to the absent parent which can progress to visiting contact and eventually overnight but that would depend on the evidence before the Court.
- Supervised and unsupervised contact arrangements. If the court considers that there is a risk to the child’s welfare then the court can order supervised contact and such contact is likely to take place at a contact centre, where an independent third party can supervise, monitor and support the arrangements to ensure the child’s safety and well-being is preserved.
How long does a child arrangements orders last?
Child Arrangements Order regulating with whom a child is to spend time or otherwise have contact or when the child is to spend time or have contact with any person or both continue until the child is 16 years old (or 18 years old in exceptional circumstances). The court can also stipulate the duration in the order.
Child Arrangements Order regulating with whom the child is to live or when the child is to live with any person or both continue until the child is 18 years old.
The Child Arrangements Order ends automatically if a child’s parents live together for a continuous period of more than six months after the order has been made.
When Should you apply for Child Arrangements Order?
Firstly, you should try your utmost to resolve disagreements without the need for the court to intervene and there are various services that can assist, one of which is mediation.
However if matters cannot be agreed then you need to apply and should do so without delay.
Who Can Apply?
The following can apply for CAO:
- The child’s parent, guardian or special guardian.
- The child’s step-parent or any person who has Parental Responsibility.
- Any person named as the person with whom the child is to live within in the Child Arrangements Order.
- Any person in a marriage or civil partnership and the child has been treated as a child of the family.
- Any person who the child has lived with for three years. This period need not be continuous but must not have begun more than five years before and ended three months before the application being made.
- Any person who has the consent of each person(s) named in a CAO that is in force, as the person(s) with whom the child is to live.
- Any person who has the consent of the local authority but only when the child is in local authority care.
- Any person who has the consent of each person(s) with Parental Responsibility for the child.
- Any person (who is not the child’s parent or guardian) who has Parental Responsibility for the child with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact.
The following can also apply for a Child Arrangements Order:
- A local authority foster parent who has had the child living with them for one year immediately before the application is made.
- A child’s relative who has had the child living with them for one year immediately before the application is made.
Application for permission
A person who does not fall into any of the above categories must apply to the court for permission to make an application for a CAO.
Before issuing an application, a prospective applicant must attend a Mediation information and assessment meeting and invite your former partner to attend, unless an exemption applies. If mediation is appropriate, a mediator discusses the dispute with each party so they may reach a settlement without the need for the court to decide.
Application to the court
If a party refuses to attend mediation or mediation not appropriate because an exemption apples then application must be made to the court.
First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment
When issuing the application, the court will check and decide whether mediation was not appropriate. The court can direct the applicant or the parties to attend a mediation before the application proceeds. The court will schedule the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment , which is a 30-minute hearing, at the same time that it issues the application. The court sends the application and notice of this hearing to the other party, at least 14 days before the date of the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment.
The purpose of the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment is to identify the issues in dispute and try to resolve them as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
All parties must attend the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment.
A court welfare officer (also known as a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer) will attend. CAFCASS is an organisation responsible for safeguarding the interests of children involved in court proceedings.
CAFCASS will work with the child(ren) and families.
At the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment, the CAFCASS officer and the judge will try to help the parties agree a resolution of the issues. Problems will be discussed openly to try to reach solutions. If an agreement can be reached the court can make an order recording the agreement.
If agreement cannot be reached, the court will identify the remaining disputed issues.
At the end of a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment where the dispute has not been fully resolved the court will set down various directions which will need to be complied with and depending on the issues for resolution, the court will either schedule a dispute resolution appointment or a final hearing.
Dispute Resolution Appointment
A Dispute Resolution Appointment is usually scheduled if CAFCASS have been directed to produce a report to assist the court in deciding the issues in dispute. The court will first identify the extent to which the dispute can be narrowed or resolved by hearing evidence from the parties. If an agreement is reached, the parties will seek the Courts approval of the terms and once approved the court will make an order reflecting the agreement.
If no final agreement is reached at the Dispute Resolution Appointment the court will direct the parties to file any further evidence and schedule a final hearing.
A final hearing will be held when a judge will consider all of the evidence so that the court can decide on the issues in dispute. The court may wish to hear oral evidence from the parties and sometimes from other witnesses. Should the court deem it necessary, the CAFCASS officer may attend court to give evidence.
After final hearing, the judge will make an order deciding the issues in dispute.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
Costs vary on a case by case basis but our firm will be able to provide cost estimate after initial consultation – Terms and conditions apply.