Cheryl Haywood, Family Associate, answers some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Child Arrangement Orders.
What Is a Child Arrangements Order?
A child arrangements order is an order of the court setting out who a child shall live with and spend time with. For example, where two parents have separated and there are disagreements about who the children of the relationship should live with and/or how much time they should spend with the other parent, a court order will clearly set out the arrangements for both parties to follow.
Should I Apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
If you cannot agree on the child arrangements or if one parent is unreasonably withholding contact, it may be necessary to apply to the court for an order.
You do not need to apply to the court if the child arrangements can be agreed between you. There is an expectation that parents will resolve any disagreements without the need for court proceedings and it is generally agreed that this is better for the children too.
What Is the Process?
Before making an application to the court, unless there is an exception, mediation will need to be attempted. This is a process whereby both parties will meet with a trained mediator and discuss the areas on which they cannot agree. The mediator will try to encourage the parties to negotiate and reach an agreement, however if this is unsuccessful or if one party does not wish to try mediation, an application can then be made to the court.
On receiving the application, the first hearing (FHDRA) will be listed to take place. Prior to this hearing, both parties should be contacted by Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) who are responsible for safeguarding the interests of children. After speaking to the parties, CAFCASS will offer advice to the court as to whether there are sufficient safeguarding concerns to warrant them undertaking a further report.
If no further report is required, both parties will be asked to file evidence by way of a statement, outlining why the court should make an order in their favour. This evidence will then be used by the court at a final hearing.
If a further wishes and feelings report is required, the court may list a directions hearing so that this report and any other evidence relating to safeguarding concerns, can be considered before the final hearing.
When Does an Order Come to an End?
An order stipulating how much time a child spends with an individual generally comes to an end when the child is 16 years old. An order stipulating who a child should live with comes to an end when the child is 18 years old.
It is worth noting that a child arrangements order will end automatically if the child’s parents live together for a continuous period in excess of 6 months after the order has been made.