Private children law is concerned with the steps a parent can take when they exercise their rights and responsibilities towards their child. This is also known as exercising their parental responsibility (PR). When parents separate, disputes may arise about where and with whom a child will live, or how much time they will spend with a parent or other person with whom they do not live. If these arrangements cannot be agreed on, it will be necessary to apply to the court for orders deciding these issues.
What are child arrangements orders?
Child arrangements orders (CAO) regulate with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact and when a child will live, spend time or otherwise have contact with a person. For example, if you and your partner have separated and you want your child to live with you, but cannot agree on this, then you will need to apply to the court for a CAO regulating your child’s living arrangements.
Alternatively, if you have agreed that your child will live with one parent but cannot agree the amount of time that your child will spend with the non-resident parent, you will need to apply to the court for a CAO regulating contact arrangements. A CAO regulating contact arrangements requires the person with whom the child lives to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order, or for that person and the child to otherwise have contact with each other. The order will set out when the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with the person named in the order.
Orders regulating contact arrangements
If you and your former partner cannot agree on when your child should spend time or otherwise have contact or the level or frequency of contact arrangements, or if the parent with whom the child lives (that is, the resident parent) is unreasonably preventing contact from taking place, it will be necessary to apply to the court for a CAO to settle these arrangements. The court may order any of the following types of contact to take place under a CAO:
- Direct and indirect contact arrangements. Direct contact arrangements involve the child having contact with a named person by staying with or visiting them. Indirect contact is where the contact takes place by letter, e-mail, voice over internet protocol (VOIP) (such as Skype), instant message or telephone.
- Supervised and unsupervised contact arrangements. If the court considers that there is a risk to the child’s welfare through direct or indirect contact arrangements, it can order contact arrangements to be supervised by a third party.
When do child arrangements orders come to an end?
CAO regulating with whom a child is to spend time or otherwise have contact or when the child is to spend time or have contact with any person or both continue until the child is 16 years old, or 18 years old in exceptional circumstances. The court can also stipulate the duration in the order. CAO regulating with whom the child is to live or when the child is to live with any person or both continue until the child is 18 years old. CAO end automatically if a child’s parents live together for a continuous period of more than six months after the order has been made.
How to apply for child arrangements orders?
Mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM)
Before issuing an application, a prospective applicant must attend a MIAM and invite your former partner to attend, unless an exemption applies. At these meetings, a mediator discusses the dispute with each party and assesses whether other forms of dispute resolution (such as family mediation, collaborative law or arbitration) can assist in resolving the dispute.
Process after the application has been issued
First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA)
The purpose of the FHDRA is to identify the issues in dispute and try to resolve them as quickly and inexpensively as possible. All parties must attend the FHDRA. A court welfare officer (also known as a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer) will attend as well. CAFCASS is an organisation responsible for safeguarding the interests of children involved in court proceedings. CAFCASS work with children and families and the CAFCASS officer advises the court on what they consider to be in the child’s best interests.
At the end of the FHDRA, depending on the issues for resolution, the court will either schedule a dispute resolution appointment or a final hearing.
Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA)
A DRA is usually scheduled if CAFCASS have been directed to produce a report to assist the court in deciding the issues in dispute. The court will first identify the extent to which the dispute can be narrowed or resolved at the DRA. The court will resolve or try to narrow the issues in dispute by hearing evidence from you and your former partner. If an agreement is reached, the court will make an order reflecting your agreement.
If no final agreement is reached at the DRA, the court will direct you and your former partner to file any further evidence and schedule a final hearing. For example, if CAFCASS have filed a report both parties will have the chance to file further statements and evidence responding to the recommendations contained in the CAFCASS report, insofar as that is necessary.
Once all relevant evidence has been prepared and submitted to the court, a final hearing will be held when a judge will consider all the evidence and make a decision about the issues in dispute.
In the small number of cases that proceed to a final hearing, the court will hear oral evidence from the parties and sometimes from other witnesses. If a CAFCASS report has been prepared, the officer is only required to attend court to give evidence if the court considers that necessary. Anyone who gives evidence will be asked questions about their written evidence by their own legal representative, the other parties legal representatives and sometimes by the judge.
After hearing the evidence and listening to the legal argument, the judge will make an order deciding the issues in dispute.
For further advice contact our Family Law team on 0345 20 73 72 8 or email@example.com