Child Arrangement Orders: Some Quick Answers to Your Top Questions
Sorting out arrangements with your ex-partner in respect of your children can be a stressful and scary experience. There are a million and one questions that come to mind: who gets the child in a divorce; can I get a residence order; how long does a child arrangement order last; how to get a child arrangement order, and many more.
It can seem a daunting task to try and have an arrangement for something that we believe should be a natural part of life – having a relationship with your child. Yet, in most cases where the parents don’t live together, such arrangements must be agreed upon and implemented, to ensure a healthy relationship with your child.
In this blog, we will try to provide some quick answers to your top questions. Our family lawyers have years of experience in helping parents like you to achieve a lasting child custody arrangement, that serve the best interest of your child. We believe in amicable solutions and strive to achieve results with as little friction as possible. However, where this is not possible, we will also guide you through the court process to ensure your child’s best interest. While our child arrangement team is particularly well recognised for being a staunch defender of father’s rights, we have many success stories where we represented mothers, who found themselves in a difficulty accessing their children.
Who Gets Custody of Children in Divorce?
Child Custody refers to arrangements in respect of how you and your ex-partner split contact with your child. It has to be said that in the UK legal system, the idea of Custody does not really exist. When people speak of custody, they really mean who the child will reside with and who makes the important decisions for the child. In reality, according to English law, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities to the child and divorce, or separation does not affect this right. In any event, the most important aspect is the interest of the child, when deciding child arrangement-related issues.
However, when parents are separated, a decision in respect of where the primary residence of the child will be must be decided. Thus, the term custody, in effect refers to the main place of residence for a child after the parents’ divorce. In the past mothers have been usually granted child custody with the father having contact arrangements. However, increasingly joint custody is seen as the desired outcome for the child, where parents have ‘shared residency’. At RVS Solicitors, we work to ensure that, where appropriate, parents can have equal access to their children. This arrangement is favoured because it means that the parents can continue to share parental responsibilities equally, the child has the comfort and stability of two homes and can enjoy family life with both parents.
Our experienced family law solicitors can further help negotiate contact arrangements. We can then help draw the agreement between you and your ex-partner to make it not only legally binding but in a sense, futureproof it. This approach is recommended because experience dictates that with time, the differences in respect of child arrangements increase, leading to the potential conflict between the parents. While having a detailed and written child arrangement agreement does not mean that future conflict is fully excluded, it reduces the points of friction and allows for better contact arrangements.
We also recognise that in some cases Joint Custody is untenable. This can be due to domestic violence, in particular against the child, disinterest or incapability from one of the parents in being so involved in the child’s life, bad faith from one parent and many other situations that can make it impossible to fully co-parent or even achieve a negotiated contact arrangement for your child. In such cases, we can help you submit an application to the Court to request a Child Arrangement Order.
The Court will then decide, based on available evidence, who gets custody of the child, keeping in mind the best interest of the minor. It is important to note that each child custody case is unique. However, Courts will look at the statutory welfare checklist in their assessment. This includes considerations of the child’s wishes, their emotional, physical, and educational needs, their background, and how capable the parents are at meeting their child’s needs.
If you are unsure as to where you stand in a child custody battle, give us a call to discuss your matter.
What Is a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is an order from the Court that regulates a child’s living arrangements and the time spent with each parent. Each order is decided case by case, depending on the family’s circumstances. The order is always made in the best interest of the child. Orders are also variable as family circumstances are not set in stone. What was initially best for the child might no longer suit them as they become older? To apply for a variation, the applicant must prove that the proposed changes are in the child’s best interests.
Child Arrangement Orders are most commonly arranged for biological parents. However, anyone who has parental responsibilities can apply, whether that be a stepparent, guardian, grandparent, or relative.
If an amicable solution is not possible and negotiations with our support do not lead to an agreement, we can help you apply for a Child Arrangements Order. We advise that you seek specialist help from the beginning to ensure that you receive the best arrangement. In most cases, the first step will be to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. Through mediation, child arrangements can be agreed upon without needing to go to Court. This option is desirable as it is cheaper and less emotionally taxing. However, we appreciate in some cases disputes will not be resolved and the parties will need to go to Court. We can help you make the application and prepare for the Court hearing to decide on the arrangement.
Most arrangements are agreed upon after the first hearing. However, in cases where they are not, there can be further hearings and potentially a report prepared by an officer of CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). After, there will usually be a further hearing before the final hearing where the Court will make its decision.
How Do They Differ from Contact & Residence Orders?
Child Arrangement Orders have replaced Contact Orders and Residence Orders. Residence Orders used to establish with whom a child lived with and received primary care from. Contact Orders legally arranged the visits the child would have with the other parent. A Child Arrangements Order helps ensure that parental responsibilities remain as shared and as equal as possible.
Parents who already have one of the older orders will not need to reapply for a new one.
How Long Does a Child Arrangement Order Last?
In a Child Arrangements Order the arrangements made are legally binding until the child turns sixteen unless the order specifies otherwise. After turning sixteen the child will decide how much time they wish to spend with the parent who they do not primarily live with. In some rare circumstances a Child Arrangements Order can last until the child turns eighteen.
It is important to be aware, however, that if separated parents move back into the same residence, after six months the Child Arrangements Order will expire.
Can I Get Legal Aid for a Child Arrangement Order?
Yes, it is possible to receive legal aid for a Child Arrangement Order. Legal aid can be provided if you or your child have suffered abuse, or if you or your child are at risk of suffering abuse. Evidence will need to be provided. There are many ways to provide such evidence, from proof of arrest through to a letter from an Appropriate Health Professional.
In the UK, the Legal Aid Agency oversees providing legal aid. There are usually several factors considered for legal aid. The matter must be within the scope of legal aid, it must be proven that you are unable to afford your own legal costs, and there must be a reasonable likelihood of success.
Your Top Questions on Child Arrangement Orders:
1. How much does a Child Arrangements Order cost?
The initial application fee for the order is £232.00. However, throughout the process there will be costs for expert advice, course proceedings, and any specialist testing the Court orders. The total cost will depend on how quickly an agreement is reached between the two parties. This is the reason for which we always would try to keep things amicable, as costs can spiral out of control, where parties are not cooperating.
From our side, we will always try to offer you a fixed fee where possible and offer you a transparent estimation of your legal costs where fixed fee arrangements are not feasible.
2. How long does a Child Arrangements Order take?
The process varies and depends on the factors of each case. Some will be resolved at a first hearing, whilst others might tend to take longer and involve a CAFCASS officer submitting a report. In most cases we can give you an accurate prediction of how long things will take after we had the opportunity to study your matter.
3. Can you change a Child Arrangements Order?
An order can be changed either if both parents agree to the change, or by a party applying back to the Court to request a variation. It is not advised to alter the order without taking legal advice first, as you might inadvertently find yourself in breach of the court order, with all the legal consequences.
4. Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
Parents can apply, but also others who have had played a role in the parental responsibilities in the child’s life. This can include stepparents, or a relative or guardian. Additionally, grandparents can apply for permission to apply for a child arrangement order if they are being denied access.
5. How does travelling abroad work on a Child Arrangements Order?
If you are the parent who provides the primary residence on the Child Arrangements Order, you are allowed to take your children abroad for up to four weeks without needing the other parent’s agreement. However, you cannot relocate your children abroad without agreement from the other parent, or a Court order. If the other parent does not agree you will need to apply for a relocation order.
Contact our experienced family team today to discuss your child arrangement order.