A child arrangements order is a legally binding order of the court setting out details of whom your child will spend their time with and other care issues.
An order can provide stability for your child and certainty for you, with all parties knowing what to expect for the future.
Child arrangements cover issues formerly referred to as residence and contact, including overnight contact, supervised time with parents and details of what contact will take place with a parent when they are not with the child, such as phone calls, video calls, emails, texts and letters.
Applying for a child arrangements order
The courts prefer that parents make arrangements for their children between themselves, without the need for a court hearing wherever possible. If parents cannot agree, then it is usually a legal requirement that they attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM), unless domestic abuse is an issue.
Mediation is a preferable way of resolving matters as it means that both parties will be in agreement as to the result. With a court hearing, the outcome will be imposed on you, and it may not be the outcome that you wanted.
At the MIAM, a neutral mediator will explain the mediation process to see whether there is a possibility of finding an acceptable resolution this way. If it appears that mediation will not be a solution, then the mediator will sign a certificate and the parties will be able to ask the court to decide the matter.
The decision of the court
The court will often ask an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to conduct an assessment of the case. CAFCASS will effectively ask, What is happening for this child? and put together information for the court on what it considers to be in the child’s best interests.
It will analyse the impact on the child of the situation and make recommendations to the court and the parents as to what arrangements and interventions would be best for the child.
The court will usually try to ensure that both parents have contact with the child and this will be decided in the light of practical issues such as the parents’ working patterns.
The courts generally attempt to share parenting between both parties. Even if this does not mean an equal amount of time with each parent, the court is no longer focused on terms such as ‘primary carer’ when making its decision, rather it encourages parents to be equally involved, even if in practical terms the child spends more time with one parent than the other.
When making an order for child arrangements the court will consider a number of factors, including the wishes of the child, with reference to their age and understanding, the effect that a change in circumstances might have on them and any educational or other particular needs that the child may have.
Who can apply for a child arrangements order?
Anyone with parental responsibility is entitled to apply for a child arrangements order, which could include a step parent. If you do not have parental responsibility, then a first step will be to obtain this. This could be done by agreement with the child’s mother or alternatively by application to the court.
If you would like to speak to one of our expert family lawyers, ring us on 0345 241 3100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org