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Child Arrangement Orders: How they work and why you might need one

View profile for Sarah Lightfoot-Webber
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Child Arrangement Orders: How they work and why you might need one

Whether you are going through a divorce, separation or other family dispute, understanding how a Child Arrangement Order works can help you make informed decisions about your child’s future.

In her latest article, Sarah Lightfoot-Webber outlines how these Orders work, the rights they give you, why you might need one and how to apply.

What is a Child Arrangement Order?

A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) outlines who a child is to live, spend time and have contact with.

It also includes Prohibited Steps Orders, Specific Issue Orders and Orders that vary or discharge any existing CAO.

Why would someone get a Child Arrangement Order?

People mainly get a Child Arrangements Order when they can’t come to an agreement with their separated partner on living and contact arrangements, but also if there is a dispute regarding schooling, medical care or religious beliefs etc.

For example, if you can’t decide who your child is to live with you could get a Child Arrangements Order to set out living arrangements.

Or, if you can’t agree on how much time your child will spend with the non-resident parent (the parent that doesn’t live with the child) you could get an Order to outline contact arrangements.

How does a Child Arrangements Order work?

Child Arrangement Orders work differently, depending on the type of Order.

Live With Orders

For a Child Arrangements Order on living arrangements, the Court could:

  • Name one person who the child is to live with
  • Name two people who live in the same household who the child is to live with (often a child’s parent and step-parent)
  • Name two people in different households who the child is to live with (often separated parents). The Order will specify how much time the child is to spend in each household.

Spend Time With (Contact) Orders

For a Spend Time With Order on contact arrangements, the Court could Order any of the following types of contact:

  • Direct, in person arrangements and indirect arrangements, such as telephone and video calls
  • Overnight and visiting arrangements
  • Supervised and unsupervised arrangements

We’ve outlined the above types of contact in more detail in our guide here.

What rights does the resident parent have?

The resident parent is able to take the child(ren) abroad for up to 28 days without the consent of the other parent or permission from Court.

The non-resident parent does not have this right. However, in the absence of agreement with the other parent, they can apply to the Court for a Specific Issue Order to take the child abroad.

If the resident parent wants to take the child abroad for longer than 28 days, they would have to apply for a Specific Issue Order in the same way.

For more advice, read our article for separated parents taking their child abroad here.

Who has parental responsibility with a Child Arrangement Order?

Both parents will retain their parental responsibility, but the person who has the benefit of the Live With Order (the resident parent) will be the first port of call on decision making whilst the Order is in force.

Related Article: What is Parental Responsibility and who has it?

How long do Child Arrangement Orders last?

As a general rule, Child Arrangements Orders last until the child is 16 years old.

Who can apply for a Child Arrangement Order?

  • The child’s parent, guardian or special guardian
  • The child’s step-parent or any person who has Parental Responsibility for the child under a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Order
  • Any person named as the person who the child is to live with under a CAO
  • Any person in a marriage or civil partnership (whether still together as a couple or not) in relation to whom the child has been treated as a child of the family
  • Anyone who the child has lived with for three years
  • Anyone who has the consent of each person(s) named in a CAO that is in force
  • Anyone 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(s) with Parental Responsibility for the child
  • Anyone who has Parental Responsibility for the child by being named in a CAO as the person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact

The following can also apply for a Child Arrangements Order which regulates who a child is to live with or when the child is to live with any person or both:

  • A Local Authority foster parent who has had the child living with them for one year immediately before the application is made
  • A child’s relative who has had the child living with them for one year immediately before the application is made

Do I need permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order?

If you don’t fall into the above categories, you must apply to the Court for permission to make an application.

How to apply for a Child Arrangements Order

Before applying for a Child Arrangements Order, unless an exemption applies, you must have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and have invited your former partner to attend.

At these meetings, a mediator discusses the dispute with each party and assesses whether other forms of dispute resolution can assist in resolving the dispute.

If a party refuses to attend the MIAM, an exemption applies, or the mediator concludes that no other methods of dispute resolution are appropriate – you can apply to Court for a CAO.

You can make an application by completing Form C100 and lodging it at your local family Court.

Related: One Couple One Lawyer - The new model for amicable divorce

How much does it cost for a Child Arrangement Order?

The Court fee for application is £215, which must accompany the C100 form.

This fee is paid by the applicant only.

In our full guide to divorce, we outline all of the costs involved. You can read it here.

Read the costs of civil partnership dissolution here.

How long does a Child Arrangements Order take to get?

This can vary and depends on the factors within your application.

If there are any safeguarding concerns, or unforeseen circumstances, the Order may take longer to attain.

From application to final Order, you’re looking at around 6-12 months.

What happens after I apply for a Child Arrangement Order?

Once you’ve applied, the Court will schedule the FHDRA – a 30-minute hearing where a Court Welfare Officer and Judge will try and help you and your ex-partner agree on a solution to the issues.

If an agreement is reached

If an agreement is reached, the Court can make an Order which records the agreement.

If an agreement isn’t reached

If an agreement can’t be reached, the Court will identify the remaining disputed issues and any evidence that will be required to reach a resolution.

The Court Welfare Officer may then prepare a report which can involve visits to the parties’ homes, meeting and speaking to them as well as other significant adults and the child.

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)

Following an unsuccessful FHDRA, the Court will hold a DRA and try to resolve or narrow the issues in dispute by hearing evidence from the parties.

If an agreement is reached, the Court will make an Order reflecting the parties’ agreement.

If no agreement is reached, the Court will instruct you to compile any further evidence and schedule a final hearing.

Final Hearing

Following an unsuccessful DRA, a final hearing will be held where a Judge will make a final decision about the issues in dispute.

In the small number of cases that proceed to a final hearing, after hearing the evidence and listening to the legal arguments, the Judge will make an Order deciding the issues.

For a more complete outline of the application process, you can read our full guide here.

How do child arrangements work regarding surrogacy?

My colleague Olivia Le Masurier outlines how child arrangements work in surrogacy and the legal implications. Read it here.

Can I get a Child Arrangement Order without a solicitor?

Yes, you can get a Child Arrangements Order without a solicitor by submitting a C100 form yourself.

However, if you did want assistance with this, our bright and experienced team at Frettens would be happy to help you.

We would ensure that your application is as coherent and watertight as possible and that all of the legal procedures are followed.

We can also assist and represent you if things escalate to FHDRA, DRA and Final Hearing.

Related: One Couple One Lawyer - The new model for amicable divorce

Bright and experienced Family Solicitors

If you have any questions following this article, or would like to instruct us to assist you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our bright Family Team.

We offer a free initial chat for all new clients, so you can speak to us to iron out the details and discuss your circumstances before committing to anything.

You can call us on 01202 499255 or fill out the form at the top of this page to find out more.

The content of this article, blog or video is not intended as specific legal advice. For tailored assistance, please contact a member of our team.

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