Understanding Child Arrangements Orders

Where parents are separating or divorcing there will often be disagreement regarding the custody or contact arrangements for their children. Below we look at how the court can intervene to ensure that any living arrangements are in the best interests of the child.

What is a Child Arrangements Order?

A Child Arrangements Order is a court order setting out with whom the child should reside, and when and where any contact will take place with the non-resident parent or other family members.

Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 either parent can apply for a Child Arrangements Order to put in place enforceable arrangements in relation to the custody and care of their child.

Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?

Families can be complicated, with second marriages or children from different relationships. In some cases the child’s parents may have died, or be considered unfit to care for them. As such, it is not necessarily always the biological parents that will look to the courts to intervene.

Under the 1989 Act, an application can be made for a Child Arrangements Order where the person is:

  • the parent, guardian or special guardian of the child

  • any person who has parental responsibility for the child

  • any person who has a residence order for the child

  • a spouse or civil partner if the child is part of that family

  • any person with whom the child has lived  for three or more years

Wider family members such as grandparents, where they do not otherwise qualify as above, are not prohibited from applying for a Child Arrangements Order, but they must first apply to the court for permission.

What will the court consider when making a Child Arrangements Order?

When making any decision in respect of a child’s upbringing “the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration”. Section 1 of the 1989 Act sets out the following welfare checklist for the court to consider:

  • the wishes and feelings of the child in light of their age and understanding

  • the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs

  • the child’s age, sex, background or other relevant characteristics

  • any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering

  • the ability of the child’s parents or guardians to meet the child’s needs

  • the likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances

  • the range of powers available to the court to make any change.

What conditions will the Child Arrangements Order include?

Typically, a Child Arrangements Order will set out who is to be the primary carer, and any other person with whom and when the child is permitted to spend time or have some form of contact with.

The order will also stipulate the nature of any contact, for example, face-to-face or indirect, as well as any other additional or alternative forms of contact, such as phone calls, letters or texts.

In some cases, the court will direct that contact only takes place in a specified location or is supervised by a third party. Much will depend on the circumstances of the case, including the capabilities of the parents and the risk of any harm to the child.

How can I find out more about Child Arrangements Orders?

If you want to find out more about applying for a Child Arrangements Order, specialist legal advice should be sought from an expert in family law.

In many cases mediation may be able to help you reach an agreement regarding the care and custody arrangements of a child without recourse to the courts.

Your legal adviser will be able to talk you through all your options, and help you to decide upon the best course of action in your particular circumstances. Call 01524 386500 to speak to a family law specialist.