What is a child arrangement order?
This is an order which is usually made in court disputes between parents (called ‘private law disputes’.)
If parents split up and cannot agree how to sort out living and contact arrangements for their children, then they can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. Such an order will set out how a child spends their time with each parent.
Parents or carers of children are generally able to apply to start proceedings without permission, but if not there is an additional early stage where you have to seek ‘leave'(permission) of the Court to apply, for example, where grandparents wish to apply for a child arrangements order.
Before making an application to court all applicants must attend a ‘MIAM’ unless they are exempt. MIAM is a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting, the aim of which is to explore if the problem can be settled by mediation. If the case is not suitable for mediation or it cannot progress, the mediator will confirm this to allow you to carry on and apply.
The person who wants the help of the Court has to issue a formal application using a set form which will set a timetable in motion.
Applications to the Family Courts follow a standard procedure, although it can be adapted to suit the needs of the case you should not expect your case to be resolved immediately or even at the first hearing. In urgent cases, the Court may be able to skip certain parts of the procedure or make short term holding orders to protect your position and that of the children even without the other person being in Court.
Child Arrangement Orders can be granted to more than one person whether they live together or not. If a child arrangements order states that the child will live with a person, that person will have ‘parental responsibility’ for that child until the order ceases. Contact with a child can be either direct (face to face) or indirect (such as by the exchange of letters.)
Some orders will make very specific arrangements for the child; other orders will be more open with detailed arrangements to be made between the parties by agreement. Child arrangements are not only made in respect of parents; there can also be orders for arrangements between siblings and wider family members. Sometimes these orders will give directions that contact is to be supervised by a third person or that contact is to take place in a specific location.
Failure to comply with an order may result in the Court making further orders specifying activities for a party to undertake or the Court making other enforcement orders which can include an order for unpaid work, or in extreme circumstances, imposing a prison sentence.
What is ‘Parental Responsibility?’
Parental Responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent or a child has in relation to their child and their property.
The birth mother will always have parental responsibility unless it is extinguished by the making of an adoption order to another person.
Where the child’s father and mother are married to each other at the time of the birth, they both have parental responsibility for the child.
Where the child’s mother and father are not married to each other at the time of the birth, the general rule is that the mother has sole responsibility for the child. However, an unmarried father will have parental responsibility for a child born after 1st December 2003 if he is named on the birth certificate and Register.
Other ways in which a father can obtain parental responsibility are by:-
- Drawing up a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, which is a specific form that has to be signed by both parents;
- Marrying the mother; or
- The court making a child arrangements order for parental responsibility if the parties cannot agree on the father having parental responsibility.
Other people may acquire parental responsibility by entering into an agreement if they are the husband or civil partner of the mother, or if they obtain a child arrangements order for residence.
More than one person can have parental responsibility for the same child at the same time. Parental responsibility is shared between everyone but where more than one person has parental responsibility for a child each of them may act alone in meeting that responsibility except in circumstances where the consent of everyone with parental responsibility is required.
The factors the Court have to take into account when deciding what form of child arrangement order to put in place
The overriding principle is the welfare of the child. The law provides more detail as to how this consideration can be put into practice:-
- The Court assumes that any delay in deciding a disputed issue is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child
- Unless there is strong evidence suggesting otherwise, the Courts will presume that the child’s welfare is best served by the continued involvement of both the parents in their life. This does not however, create a presumption that a child’s time should be divided in a particular way and ‘involvement’ can mean different things to different families.
- The Court must be satisfied that the making of an order is better for the child than making no order at all
- The Court must also look at a list of factors known as the ‘welfare checklist.’ These factors include:-
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned;
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances;
- The child’s age, sex, background and any relevant characteristics;
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- How capable each of the child’s parents are in meeting the child’s needs;
- The range of powers available to the Court
We, at RJT Solicitors are fully aware that feelings and emotions can run particularly high when dealing with the interests of children. We offer a friendly and sensitive approach at what can often be a very daunting time of your life…. for a free 30 minute no obligation chat speak to a solicitor on 01942 409154.