From April 2014 courts have been making child arrangements orders to replace the existing residence and contact orders which have been in place for over 20 years.
In the media there has been much discussion about ‘shared parenting’. However, The Children and Families Act 2014, which came into force on 22 April 2014, does not introduce shared parenting but section 11 introduces a presumption of continued parental involvement as of 22 October 2014. In future the court will need to consider the presumption of continued parental involvement whenever it is dealing with a child arrangements order, special guardianship order or is resolving an application relating to parental responsibility.
The legislative changes do not mark a drastic change but they do reinforce the government’s view in relation to mediation and shared parental involvement and responsibility for children. Similarly, the changes do not go as far as to promote the equal division of the child’s time between separated parents but it may encourage the courts to impose more arrangements where the child’s time is shared between both mum and dad.
There are two main elements that a child arrangements order sets out:
- With whom a child is to live;
- When and how a child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with someone.
Any contact and residence orders made before 22 April 2014 will have been deemed to be a child arrangements order.
In the majority of cases, all parties are expected to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court for a child arrangement order.
The government has suggested that the introduction of the presumption of continued parental involvement will promote greater understanding about the way in which court decisions are made and believe the amendment will, in time, encourage separated parents to adopt less rigid and confrontational positions with regards to the arrangements for their children.
The new orders should clearly outline what a parent is expected to do by specifying the time the child spends with each parent either at the primary place of residence or when they are with the other parent. The order can also include very detailed provisions with regards to other aspects of the child’s life if required. It is intended, that over time the changes will remove the perception that the party who has a residence order made in their favour has ‘won’ and has the power of decision making over the children involved. Encouraging parents to reach an agreement in an amicable way rather than through litigation.
Although, the changes may encourage the courts to impose more arrangements where the child’s time is shared between both parents, they do not go as far as to promote the equal division of the child’s time.