What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A child arrangements order (“CAO”) is an order made by the court regulating arrangements relating to where, with whom, and when a child is to live, spend time with or otherwise have contact with an adult.
It is important that a CAO is unambiguous and practicable, so that there is no confusion and thus no room for dispute regarding the arrangements for the child(ren). For example, if the child is attending school, it is sensible to include both term and non-term time arrangements, and to consider important dates such as Christmas Day, religious festivals, and birthdays.
If there are concerns over the safeguarding of the child, or there has been a breakdown in parent-child contact, another important consideration is how contact will take place, for example phone calls, cards or letters.
CAOs can make provision for contact to be incrementally increased over certain periods so that contact between the child and a parent can become more frequent over time, but at a pace which is appropriate for the chid.
In general, it is in the child’s best interests to have a well-structured and considered arrangement in place, that can be enforced if necessary, rather than an informal and ad-hoc contact arrangement.
However, it is important to understand that every family is different, and the court will therefore treat each case on the circumstances of that matter.
Do you have to go to court?
For many, it is a truism that nobody knows a child better than their parent.
Therefore, where possible, it is greatly encouraged for parents to reach an agreement between themselves regarding child arrangements. Moreover, both parties are typically more likely to comply with the child arrangements where they were both part of reaching that arrangement.
However, it is not always possible for separated parents to reach an agreement between themselves for various reasons, such as domestic abuse, inter-party hostility, or alleged parental alienation. Therefore, if an agreement cannot be reached, applying to your local court for a CAO is often the most appropriate course of action.
Who can apply?
The following persons can automatically apply for a CAO without the Court’s permission:
- The child’s parent, guardian, or special guardian.
- The child’s stepparent or any person who has Parental Responsibility for the child by virtue of a Parental Responsibility agreement or order.
- Anyone named as the person with whom the child is to live in a CAO.
- Any party to a marriage or civil partnership in relation to whom the child is a child of the family.
- Anyone with whom the child has lived for a period of three years.
- This period need not be continuous but must not have begun more than five years before or ended more than three months before the application being made.
- Any person who has the consent of each person named in a CAO as the person with whom the child is to live.
- Any person who has the consent of the local authority where the child is in local authority care.
- Any person who has the consent of each person with PR for the child.
- Any person who has Parental Responsibility for the child by virtue of being named in a CAO as the person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact.
If you do not fall within any of the categories above-mentioned, then you can only apply for a CAO with permission from the court.
For example, if you are a grandparent and you do not have the consent of all the persons who have parental responsibility for the child, and the child has not lived with you for a period of three years, you must make an application to the court for permission to apply for a CAO. It is recommended that you take legal advice to ensure that this is done in the correct way.
How to apply
To apply for a CAO, you must complete a Form C100 and file this with the court for issuing.
Unless specific exemptions apply, such as domestic abuse, you will need to obtain a signed Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (“MIAM”) form before you make your application.
Furthermore, if you are alleging that the child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, domestic abuse, then a further supplemental Form C1A must be completed.
If you are concerned of the prospective opponent being made aware of your address, you can prepare a confidential address Form C8.
Please note that the costs of making an application for a CAO is £215.
Once the court has received your application, it will be processed and issued by the court. Proceedings will then begin. For more information on the various stages of children proceedings, it is recommended that you seek advice from a family lawyer.
The court’s approach
The court’s paramount consideration is the best interests of the child. This means that although the court will consider other relevant factors, its priority and main focus when deciding a CAO is what is in the best interests of the child(ren).
To evaluate what is in the best interests of the child, the court will refer to what is called the welfare checklist, namely:
- The wishes and feelings of the child concerned dependent on their age and level of understanding.
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
- The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision.
- The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision.
- Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering.
- The capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs.
- The powers available to the court in the given proceedings.
Therefore, despite court proceedings being a very emotionally fraught time for parents, it is essential to put aside hostility between the adults and adopt a child-centric approach to the application. This is often easier said than done. Thus, a solicitor can be invaluable in separating the emotions of the situation from the legally relevant facts of the case and providing much needed guidance during a difficult time.
If you would like further information on Child Arrangement Orders or advice regarding children proceedings, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org