Child Arrangement Order
The disputes arising in respect of children are very sensitive areas of law and should be handled with the due care and attention they deserve. These disputes commonly arise when parents are separating and they have disputes in respect of where and with whom children will live or how much time they spend with the other parent and/or others.
We understand how difficult these circumstances can be, especially when considering the impact on the parties, children and wider family. We consider that we take a client-focused approach that focuses on resolving and narrowing the issues without costly court proceedings. We work under your instructions but have an ethos that attempts all other avenues before considering formal proceedings. This would ultimately seek to save you the unnecessary stress, costs, and proceedings that can be attached to protracted disputes.
Formal Order Regulating Contact
These types of proceedings are referred to as child arrangement order proceedings and are normally concerned with the parents’ exercise of rights and responsibilities towards their children. If a formal order is in place, it will regulate child arrangements and provide stability for the children. These orders will commonly also outline who is the resident parent (with whom the children live) and any other contact to be had with the other parent, i.e. direct, indirect, overnight, supervised.
In the first instance, we will attempt to resolve the issues by way of negotiations and mediation (where applicable). There are many cases where such an approach can reach a settlement and we can agree on a draft order and have this approved by the court. This approach saves substantial costs and prevents lengthy litigation. Unfortunately, if this is not possible, we would have at the very least narrowed the disputed issues and this can often save time and costs should the matter proceed to formal proceedings.
Who Can Apply?
The following individuals can apply for a child arrangement order without seeking specific permission of the court.
- Step-Parent (if they have parental responsibility or the child is treated as a child of the family);
- Guardian/Special Guardian;
- Individual(s) with whom the child has lived for a period of at least three years.
If you have the consent of both parents (and everyone else who has parental responsibility) or if you are named in a child arrangement order as an individual with whom the child lives – you can also apply. If you are related to the child and he/she has lived with you for a year, you may be able to apply for an order in respect of whom the child will live with. If you do not fall into the above categories, we can consider your circumstances and seek the court’s permission to make such an application.
What Does the Court Consider?
The primary concern for the court is the welfare of the child. Thereafter, the court will consider something referred to as a welfare checklist. This is confirmed in legislation as being:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (in light of age and understanding);
- physical, emotional and educational needs;
- likely effect of any change in his circumstances;
- age, sex, background and any characteristics of which the court considers relevant;
- any harm which suffered or at risk of suffering;
- how capable each of the parents is, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
- the range of powers available to the court.
What Orders Can Be Considered?
- Contact Order – this type of order will consider with whom the child is to have contact. This can include the other parent or any other individuals and such an order will include the arrangements for such contact, i.e. when, where, how and with whom.
- Residence Order – this type of order will consider with whom the child is to live. It is possible for parents to have shared residence and the specific terms of residence not necessarily being equal. This is commonly due to the day to day commitments of the child, i.e. schooling.
- Parental Responsibility Order – these orders are predominantly raised by unmarried fathers who are not named on the child’s birth certificate. The concept of parental responsibility is very important and provides an individual ‘…all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property…’. These types of orders can provide unmarried father rights in relation to the child.
- Specific Issues Order – This type of order assist the parties when they are in dispute about a specific issue in relation to the child. There are often disputes between parents in respect of some fundamental aspects that fall outside the remit of day to day parental decisions. For example, this can include decisions such as which school the child attends.
- Prohibited Steps Order – These are often emergency applications and prevent a parent from undertaking a certain course of disputed action. They are commonly utilised to prevent travel outside of this jurisdiction and in respect of abduction fears.
How Long Do the Orders Last?
It is important to remember that if the parents live together for a continuous period of more than six months, the child arrangement order will automatically end. This scenario aside. If the order contains a provision for whom the child spends time with/have contact with, the order will commonly continue until the child reaches 16 years of age and in exceptional circumstances 18 years of age. If the order contains a provision for whom the child lives, it will commonly continue until the child is 18 years of age.