What is a Child Arrangement Order?

Guide to Child Arrangement Orders

If you are going through a separation or divorce and have children, then you will need to make arrangements for them. This is done by way of a child arrangement order. On this page, we will explain what a child arrangement order is and outline the process for obtaining one.

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What is a Child Arrangement Order?

A child arrangement order is a court order that sets out the arrangements for where a child will live and when they will spend time with each parent. It can cover a number of different aspects, including:

  • Who the child will live with primarily
  • When the child will spend time with each parent, for example: after school, at weekends and during school holidays
  • Whether conditions are attached to visits, for example, if visits should take place with a supervisor present or at a certain time
  • When the child will spend time with other family members such as grandparents or siblings
  • The type of contact that can take place outside of visits, such as phone calls and text messages
  • The arrangements for contact if one parent lives overseas

Child arrangement orders have replaced Contact Orders and Residence Orders, although parents who have these orders do not need to reapply for a new order.

Who can apply for a child arrangement order?

Most often, the biological parents of the child will be the people applying for a child arrangement order when they divorce or separate. However, that is not always the case. Any party to the marriage and anyone the child has lived with for at least three years can also apply. This allows step-parents and other family members to seek a child arrangement order. For example, grandparents may apply if they have been playing a significant role in the child’s life and feel their access is being unfairly restricted.

What is the process for applying for a child arrangement order?

The first step is to try and reach an agreement with the other parent about the arrangements for your child. If you are unable to do this, then you must both attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is where you will meet with a mediator to discuss the possibility of resolving your differences amicably.

As with other aspects of divorce, mediation is usually a cheaper and quicker option than going to court.

Will there be a court hearing?

If mediation is not suitable, or does not work, then you can apply to the court for a child arrangement order. The first step is to complete the relevant paperwork, which includes an application form and a statement of facts. You will also need to pay the court fee which is currently £232. Child arrangement orders are legally binding, so if you have not yet consulted with a solicitor during your separation, this is the time to do so.

There will then be a number of court hearings where a decision on the arrangements will be made. All parties to the proceedings must attend the hearings.

What will the court consider?

Each child arrangement order is decided on the circumstances of the individual family. There is no standard order that will be applied in all cases. The welfare of the child is always the paramount consideration and the court will make an order that it believes is in the best interests of the child.

Beyond this guiding principle, the court may take into account:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child (if the child is of an appropriate age)
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect of any change in circumstances on the child
  • The ability of each parent to meet the needs of the child
  • Any risk that one parent may pose to the safety or welfare of the child

The Court has overall discretion.

How long does a child arrangement order last?

A child arrangement order lasts until the child reaches the age of 16. However, the arrangements set out in the order can be changed with the help of a solicitor if both parents agree. If one parent wishes to vary the order but the other one does not, then they will need to apply to the court for permission.

What happens if one party breaches the child arrangement order?

If one party breaches the child arrangement order, then it is possible to ask the court to enforce it. The court will schedule a preliminary hearing to find out why the order is not being followed and decide what action, if any, needs to be taken. This may involve referring the parents to mediation or imposing fines on a parent who failed to comply without a reasonable excuse.

In very serious cases, the non-compliant parent may be sent to prison for contempt of court.

How Osbornes can help

If you need help obtaining a child arrangement order our specialist children lawyers can help. They will advise you based on your specific situation. To speak with a lawyer today call us or fill in the online form below. 

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