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.

Contact us


  • “Their family department is very strong, from adoption to child abduction and matrimonial finance, this is a very strong team.”

  • I consider the firm to be very experienced in child care cases and to provide a very professional and high standard of work”

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. 

Speak to us about child arrangements

For a free initial conversation call 020 7485 8811

Email us Send us an email and we’ll get back to you

    • Bridget Thompson is a public law specialist noted for her extensive children public law practice.

      Chambers UK 2023

    • "David Leadercrammer is such an experienced wonderful lawyer who you would want on the other side of your case. He’s sensible, pragmatic and hugely experienced in money and children cases."

      Legal 500 2023

    • "Bridget Thompson combines her excellent legal knowledge with a clear, succinct and robust style of advice and advocacy. Her approach clearly inspires a high degree of client confidence in her"

      Legal 500 2021

    • "She is excellent. She's very reliable, talks about her cases passionately and is very committed to her clients."

      Chambers UK 2021

    • "I consider the firm to be very experienced in child care cases and to provide a very professional and high standard of work"

      Chambers UK 2021

    • Bridget Thompson is a public law specialist noted for her extensive practice in matters involving alternative families and adoption. An interviewee observes: "She's a fighter, she's clever, and she understands all aspects of a case."

      Chambers UK

    • "Well-regarded family practice assisting clients with substantial matrimonial disputes and sensitive children proceedings."

      Chambers UK

    • "Simone is absolutely on top of the game. She has great attention to detail, and has her clients' needs at heart."

      Chambers UK

    • "Bridget is client-focused, a pleasure to work with and incredibly supportive to her clients."

      Chambers UK

    • Bridget Thompson heads the family team, where client care is the top priority.

      Legal 500

    • Simone McGrath is a highly knowledgeable practitioner with a focus on international child abduction matters. She has a large expertise in public and private law.

      Chambers UK

    • Simone McGrath handles international child abduction cases and challenging care proceedings relating to non-accidental injuries.

      Chambers UK

    • This team is perhaps best known for its children work, often involving complex international dynamics.

      Chambers UK

    • Naomi Angell leads the market in cross-border children law matters. Sources confirm that she is "at the cutting edge of changing law and policy" when it comes to international adoption

      Chambers UK

    Insights from our Family LawyersVIEW ALL

    1. 8.3.2022

      Unmarried fathers and parental responsibilities

      The 1st December 2021 marked the 18th anniversary of the amendment to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which gave unmarried fathers...

      Read more
    2. family in poppy field

      6 cases that shape a private children dispute

      Family disputes involving children can be particularly emotive, which is why our expert children lawyers work tirelessly to understand how...

      Read more
    3. father and son

      Who Pays Child Maintenance?

      Child maintenance is regular, reliable financial support that helps towards a child’s everyday living costs. The Child Maintenance Service (...

      Read more
    4. 25.11.2021

      Child arrangements for going abroad when separated

      I am separated from my spouse – can I take the children abroad on holiday? The answer to this question is...

      Read more
    5. 9.11.2021

      Keeping social media out of divorce proceedings

      We’ve recently seen the playing out on twitter and Instagram of the high-profile separation of actor Ioan Gruffudd and...

      Read more
    6. 28.9.2021

      Family Courts Backlogs Exacerbated by Pandemic

      Court backlogs: Divorcing couples face ruinous costs as last-minute court hearing cancellations become commonplace Divorcing couples are facing ruinous costs...

      Read more
    7. 21.7.2021

      Child arrangements affected by pandemic travel restrictions

      International families experiencing long separation periods from children As pandemic restrictions continue to limit overseas travel, increasing numbers of separated...

      Read more
    8. 20.4.2020

      COVID-19: Legal update on child arrangements

      Many parents are understandably worried about the spread of COVID-19 and the impact of new social distancing measures upon them...

      Read more
    9. christmas tree

      Child Arrangements at Christmas

      The Christmas period can be a hectic and stressful time for all parents, but for separated parents, it can be...

      Read more
    10. airplane wing

      Can I take the children abroad on holiday?

      The answer to this question is not straightforward.  There are a number of relevant domestic and European laws but particularly...

      Read more
    11. 19.6.2012

      Summer holidays – a hotbed for child contact disagreements

      The summer holidays can be a real source for disagreements and arguments.  When couples separate, it can be very difficult...

      Read more
    12. 19.6.2012

      Government announces new shared parenting consultation

      Naomi Angell, head of the adoption team at Osbornes solicitors, London and currently co-chair of the Family Law Committee of...

      Read more



    • Times best law firms 2023
    • legal 500 leading firm