Navigating child arrangements following a divorce or separation can be complex and emotionally challenging.  There will be various decisions that will need to be made relating to their living arrangements, education and much more, and agreeing with your former partner may not come naturally.  In these situations, alternative dispute resolution methods such as collaborative law may lead to an agreement, however for some, it may be necessary to let a Court have the final say.

Our Children Law specialists within our Family & Relationships department are on hand to assist and support you when coming to these arrangements, whether that is through resolution or attending Court.  Here, we explain more about the possible outcome of those Court hearings, known as a Child Arrangements Order.

If you have additional questions or you would like to discuss your situation in more detail and understand your options, contact our team today to book your free initial consultation.

A Child Arrangements Order is a legal order issued by the Family Court that determines the living and contact arrangements for a child when their parents or guardians are no longer together and they are not able to agree on these matters amicably.

Child Arrangements Orders were previously known as “Custody and Access” Orders or “Residence and Contact” Orders, which you may still hear mentioned during the proceedings.

When parents separate or divorce, it is essential to establish clear arrangements for your child’s living situation and contact with both you and your former partner. A Child Arrangements Order sets out where your child will live (residence) and how much time they will spend with each parent (contact). This order is crucial in ensuring your child’s welfare and maintaining a stable and consistent environment for them.

There are two types of Child Arrangements Order that the Family Court can make a ruling on:

  • Live with Order: This order determines where your child will primarily reside. It grants the parent or guardian with whom the child lives the responsibility for day-to-day decisions about their welfare. It does not necessarily exclude the other parent from having contact with the child.
  • Contact Order: This order establishes the amount and frequency of contact the non-resident parent will have with your child. It ensures that both you and your former partner can maintain a meaningful relationship with your child, even if you do not live together.

Over recent years, the Family Courts have been encouraging parents to come to agreements between themselves and not rely on the Court system, aiming to reinforce with parents the importance of putting their children first and keeping their own feelings out of the discussion about their children.

We understand that this may not always be possible and should you not be able to come to an agreement between the two of you, you can apply for a Child Arrangements Order.

Due to the time, costs and emotional toll this can take through the Courts, we would always recommend that you consider some form of alternative dispute resolution, whether that be collaborative law or Family Mediation.  Attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) can assist in helping you explore the possibility of reaching a mutually agreeable arrangement through mediation.  This session is run with an independent and neutral Family Mediator, who has been trained specifically to hold sessions of this nature to guide parents, where possible, towards an agreement that has the children’s best interests at heart.

If Family Mediation or the collaborative law approach is unsuccessful or deemed unsuitable, either you or the other parent can apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order. The Court will consider various factors, including the child’s best interests and welfare, before making a decision on the child’s living and contact arrangements.

While attending Court may be the only way arrangements can be made between parents, exploring alternative routes can be beneficial for various reasons:

  • By approaching your disagreements from a collaborative perspective, all parties concerned enter the discussions in the spirit of partnership opposed to one of conflict, making it more likely that an agreement can be reached and keeping hostility away from the family home at a time when your children will be sensitive to change.
  • Alternative dispute resolution can lead to a more timely decision; instead of relying on the dates of the currently back-logged Court system, you can book your meetings at a date and time of your choosing.
  • In addition to saving you time, a collaborative route can also save you money if there are not multiple protracted conversations.
  • Finally, and perhaps the most important, adopting this approach puts you more in control and gives you the opportunity to express your wishes at each stage. By appealing to the Court for an Order, you are essentially giving the Judge the control over your children’s future, who may not make the decision you believe to be the right one.

Once in force, a Child Arrangements Order is legally binding and is usually in place until your child is 18 years old.

As circumstances change over time, the original child arrangements may no longer be suitable. In such cases, you can apply to the Court to modify the existing Child Arrangements Order. If there are significant changes in the child’s circumstances or a substantial change in one of the parents’ positions, the Court may consider modifying or discharging the order to better reflect the child’s needs.

It is essential to note that breaching a Child Arrangements Order can have serious legal consequences. Non-compliance with the order can lead to enforcement action by the Court, including fines or even imprisonment.  Once the Order has been put in place, if you do not agree or you are not able to abide to the terms of the Order, we urge you to discuss this with us as we can explain the options that allow you to stay on the right side of the law.

While a Child Arrangements Order covers a range of matters, there are additional Orders you can apply for through the Court if you feel these are necessary:

  • Specific Issues Order – this type of order can be put in place if there are more specific issues where you wish to assert your parental responsibility, for example if there is a certain type of school you wish your child to attend.
  • Prohibitive Steps Order – this Order is usually put in place to restrict one parent from asserting their parental responsibility, for example if they are seeking to take the child abroad or change their name.

Contact our Child Law Solicitors

If you are facing issues related to child arrangements, our Family & Relationships department are here to help. We can provide you with expert guidance, represent your interests in Court if necessary, and help you ensure the best possible outcome for your child’s well-being. To book your free initial consultation, get in touch with one of our Family Solicitors from our offices in AndoverRomseySalisbury or Witney by using the Contact Form, emailing moc.n1713924030ellub1713924030rekra1713924030p@ofn1713924030i1713924030 or calling your local office:

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