Everything You Should Know About Child Contact Orders
Child Contact Orders are Court Orders meant to ensure that the non-resident parent, that is the parent with whom the child does not normally live, can have contact with the child, can continue to enjoy a parental relationship with, and exercise parental responsibility in respect of, the child.
While it all sounds simple in theory, in reality, things hardly ever are simple when it comes to Child Contact Orders.
This article intends to address some key questions you may have regarding the topic of Child Contact Orders. It is a highly complex area of Family Law, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed, in particular, if the other parent with whom the child normally resides, is being difficult and acrimonious. This is why seeking specialist advice from trusted, experienced solicitors is essential.
Please get in touch with us to book an appointment for more detail or assistance.
What Is a Contact Order?
A contact order legally called a Child Arrangements Order, is a Court order that will determine who the child will live with, but also will require the resident parent, to allow contact with someone else, usually the other parent.
The court will determine whether the child should have regular contact with the other parent, to allow for a continued relationship to exist between them. An order can be made to give children the right to see both of their parents. The amount of contact and the arrangements made depend upon the situation immediately before the order. That is to say, if the child was looked after considerably by the father and the father had an active role, they will likely be allowed to have more contact with increased frequency than if they had not been involved at all in the child’s upbringing.
To put it plainly, contact orders make it a legal obligation that the primary carer, or the resident parent, allows either direct or indirect contact with a secondary carer.
Direct Contact, Indirect Contact & Supervised Contact:
Direct contact would consist of interactions such as visits or overnight stays, whereas indirect contact would be interactions such as phone calls, video calls, letters etc. In certain cases, the Court might only allow for supervised contact. This means that the parent who is having contact with the child will need to attend a specially set up Contact Centre and see the child there or have contact supervised by a third party e.g. a family member. This usually happens only when there are safety concerns in respect of the parent’s behaviour.
Overall, it is the court’s responsibility to decide which method would be most appropriate, and overall, the frequency of the contact. The decision depends on the unique facts of each situation. To determine the best course of action, the Court may request the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service to carry out an investigation and prepare a report. Based on this and other evidence provided by the parties, the Court will then decide what is considered to be in the child’s best interest, in respect of contact with one or both parents.
What Are The Conditions Required For a Judge To Grant a Contact Order?
This will depend upon the nature and extent of the prior relationship with the child, as well as the future development needs and so on. The judge is responsible for considering the welfare of the child when making any decision in respect of a child.
The factors that the Court will take into consideration, are:
- Wishes and feelings of the child – this will take into account how old the child is, as well as the overall mental and emotional maturity of the child;
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- What are the likely effects on the child if the current arrangements are changed – this can become a particular point of contention if there is a request for a change of residency, or increase in contact, an overnight stay with a non-resident parent, or relocation;
- The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics that the Judge will consider relevant- for instance, overnight contact with the father might be considered inappropriate for a nursing infant;
- The Courts will also look at the prior history, meaning if there has been a history of domestic violence in the family, in particular against the child, these will be taken into account;
- Once the child’s needs have been determined, the Courts will also consider how capable each parent is in meeting these needs. The simplest example of this is for instance that a parent who is not able to demonstrate they can provide the child with a separate sleeping arrangement is unlikely to be granted overnight contact.
There are myriad ways in which the Court seeks to determine the above-mentioned factors. This is where having the support of Child solicitors specialising in Contact Orders is vital. Our family solicitors have successfully handled hundreds of child contact orders and have a wealth of knowledge in respect of what the Courts are looking for and how to provide the relevant evidence. You can read through our success stories or give our team a call today to discuss your Child Contact Order.
How Much Does A Contact Order Cost?
The court fee is £232. However, there are other costs that you will need to account for.
These range from the fees for your legal team to costs with witnesses, experts and translations. Like with all matters that reach Court, the proceedings can become quite expensive. It is, therefore, very important to plan and have a strong legal team that knows the intricacies of such matters and can lead you straight in the right direction.
While it’s not always going to be possible to keep the costs to a minimum, in a lot of cases with good planning and the right negotiation tactics, the situation can be resolved before the case reaches the final hearing at the Courts, thereby saving you money.
Can I Get Legal Aid For A Contact Order?
Yes, it is possible to obtain legal aid for a contact order. As per the government’s guidelines; you will need to show that your case is eligible for legal aid, that the problem is serious and that you cannot afford to pay for the legal costs yourself. Some circumstances in which you could qualify as having a ‘serious’ problem are; if there is a risk of abuse or forced harm.
You also need to be able to prove that you truly cannot pay for the costs, in the event you do not qualify for your legal matter to be entirely paid for, you may find that you will have to pay some amount towards the costs or even pay the costs back entirely later.
If you wish to seek legal aid for a Contact order, you should make sure that the firm you have instructed for your Child matter is authorised to handle legal aid matters. RVS Solicitors does not accept Legal Aid matters and we are not able to assist you with your Child Contact order if you will require legal aid for it. You can use the tool on the Government website to search for legal aid firms – https://find-legal-advice.justice.gov.uk/.
How Old Does The Child Have To Be For A Child Contact Order?
The judge will grant a contact order for a child of any age, including new-borns, up until the age of 18. After the age of 18, a child contact order cannot be made, as irrespective of their personal circumstances, they will legally be considered adults.
Any contact order made before that age will apply until the child is 16. Of course, as we have seen above, the age of the child will be a factor for the Judge to consider when making the order, therefore, depending on the child’s age, the outcome of the Court hearing may be different.
Who Can Apply For A Child Contact Order?
In most cases, a child Contact Order is applied for by the biological parents of the child, in particular where the parents are separated and do not live together. However, this does not mean that the biological parents are the only ones who can apply for such an Order, or that they can always apply for one.
Firstly, anyone who has parental responsibility can apply for one -child’s parents, step-parents, or legal guardians. It is also possible for other relatives, such as grandparents to apply for Contact Orders, in certain circumstances.
In some cases, you might need to prove parental responsibility first before you will get a Child Contact Order. In other cases, where the person seeking Child Contact does not also seek to establish, they have parental responsibility but simply wishes to have contact with the child, for instance, grandparents, they will need to seek permission from the Courts to apply for a Child Arrangement Order first.
If you are unsure about where you stand with this, speak to one of our Family Solicitors for guidance.
How To Make An Application For Child Contact Order:
As mentioned above, the legal terminology for a Child Contact order is Child Arrangement Order. This is what you should be applying for if you are looking to establish contact with your child. There is a specific process that you will need to follow in respect of asking the Courts to issue an order for you to have contact with your child.
As part of this process, you will be required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. During such a meeting, the Mediator, who is a qualified professional, will assess whether a Child Arrangement can be agreed upon between parties via Alternative Dispute Resolution, such as Mediation, or the parties will need to go to Court. Should the latter be decided, you will be issued a Certificate that will enable you to start the process.
There are situations, where the above step will not be required, for instance where there is domestic violence present. In this case, Mediation will not be suitable and is not required.
Our experienced Family Solicitors advise that wherever possible, you should try to take advantage of Mediation and resolve your matter amicably, as this will save you in costs. However, we also understand that it’s not always possible to reach an agreement, at least not immediately. Failed Mediation, however, does not always mean that an amicable solution cannot be reached, and our team will try to negotiate a settlement for your matter throughout the entire process, as this will help you save costs.
What Happens If Mediation Doesn’t Work?
After it has been determined that Mediation is not a viable option, the next step is to seek an order from the courts for the child contact. At this point, it is strongly advised that you seek legal advice and representation from a reputable firm specialising in Child Contact Orders. The legal team will help you prepare the Court application and apply for a Child Arrangements Order. Following this, you will be issued with a Notice from Court telling you when your first hearing date is and what you should do by then.
The First hearings are mostly reserved for the Courts to understand what the issues are and what steps should be taken to resolve them. The hearing can be either in person or remote and you will be required to attend it, together with the other parent. The Court may also direct the participation of a representative of CAFCASS. The Court will take the necessary steps to resolve any issues between the parties and will encourage them to resolve the matter amicably. In a lot of cases, good preparation for the first hearing will mean that a resolution may be reached within the first hearing, meaning that you can have an agreed Contact order without the need of spending further time and money.
If reaching an agreement at the first hearing is not possible, the Court will issue directions for the parties in respect of further hearings. These hearings will be to gather further evidence, such as parent’s witness statements, CAFCASS reports etc. At each of these steps, having the correct evidence in place is crucial, it is also important to remember that resolution is always possible and by strengthening your case in Court, you also are gaining a valuable opportunity to convince the other party to agree with the arrangements you are proposing without the need of going through an expensive court Process.
If a resolution is not possible and the matter goes to Final Hearing, the Judge, based on the available evidence, will determine the Arrangements for the child, this will include who the child will reside with, how contact will go with the other parent etc.
How Long Does It Take To Get A Contact Order in UK?
There will be several factors that will affect the length of time that takes to get a Child Contact order in place. The overall length of the process will depend on:
- The complexity of the case itself
- How willing the parents are to engage with each other.
- Whether any welfare or safeguarding issues are being raised by either the parent or the guardian etc.
Of course, the quickest way would be if the parents can agree on an arrangement. In most cases where the Courts get involved, it will be at least six weeks before the first hearing. Every following hearing will likely be after another six to eight weeks. There are normally twelve weeks involved when a CAFCASS officer is required to produce a report, meaning that it can be months, or in particularly complex and acrimonious cases even a year before the final order is issued.
In such cases, it might be worth getting an interim Contact Order in place, so that you can have contact with your child while you are waiting for the final Order.
Breach of Contact Orders: What Happens If The Mother or Father Is Not Sticking to Contact Order?
If the mother or father is not sticking to the contact order, you have a few options.
You can try to resolve the issue amongst yourselves, you could try mediation or using a child contact centre, these methods tend to be cheaper, easier and faster than taking the matter to court. If all else fails, you will need to go to court for a decision that you will both be bound to follow. The process is the same as what you had to follow to get the first Order in place.
If the Court finds that the Contact order has been breached without a serious excuse, there are several sanctions they can apply. However, it is important to remember that in all their decisions, the Court will have the child’s best interest in mind and no sanction that can harm the child’s welfare, will be imposed.
Can I Vary A Child Contact Order?
Once the Courts have issued the Child Contact Order, the parties are legally bound by it and will have to follow the order. However, life is not static, and circumstances change, meaning that the Contact Orders too might need to change.
It may be the case that the other party keeps breaching the order, rendering it not viable, or perhaps due to some changes in your life, that of the child or the ex-partner, the old arrangements are no longer working, and you need some changes to them. How the Contact order will be varied, will depend on the exact circumstances.
For instance, if the reason for wanting to vary the order is because the other side is not keeping to it, for instance, the resident parent keeps inventing excuses to cancel contact last minute or is alienating the child and the child is refusing contact, then you will need to go through Court to obtain what is effectively a new order, which will address these new issues.
If, however, the need to vary the order arises from a change in circumstances, it might be possible to achieve these amendments through an agreement between parties and have them approved by the Courts, via a Consent Order.
If you need to vary the Child Arrangement Order but are not sure how to approach it, speak to our Family team for quick guidance and advice.
Can I Apply For Emergency Child Contact Order?
Emergency child orders are possible in situations where the child’s safety is a concern. If you have reasons to believe that the child is not safe in their current environment, you can submit a request for an emergency Child Order, together with a statement setting out your position. The request will be heard on the same day and if the Courts find it to be justified, an Interim order will be issued and served, without notifying the other party.
Following this first hearing, a Second hearing will be listed, where the other party will have the opportunity to present their position. The Court will make a final decision based on available evidence.
It is important to remember that Emergency Child Orders can be applied for as a separate matter or as part of ongoing proceedings if the need arises.
What Is The Relationship Between a Non-Molestation Order and Child Contact?
A non-molestation order is an order that protects domestic violence victims and any relevant children from harassment, intimidation, pestering or physical violence. The non-molestation order may include provisions that bar a person the order is issued against from contacting the applicant, as well as being unable to be within a certain number of meters from that person and their home.
It is important to note, however, that this order will not automatically prevent the person the order is against from seeing and being in contact with the child. This may or may not be what you require.
If you are a parent that has suffered from domestic violence, the contact will cover you, but not your children, unless there is a cause to fear harm against them. If the children were previously also affected by domestic abuse, the order can potentially protect them, otherwise, you might still be required to make the children available for contact with your abusive ex-partner.
If you feel that it would be in your child’s best interests to not have any contact at all with the other person, it might also be possible, but only in circumstances where the child’s safety is a concern. You should consult a family lawyer in respect of your options if you want to stop your child from having contact with the other parent.
If you feel you have been unfairly accused of domestic violence and a non-molestation order has either been issued against you, or there are proceedings, this can be challenged and defended against, provided there is strong evidence to support your case. Therefore, you should seek immediate legal advice on the matter.
How Can RVS Solicitors Help?
We, here at RVS Solicitors, have a team of Family Law specialists with years of experience dealing with all manner of family law issues. You can rest assured knowing that a senior Solicitor will be working on your legal matter from beginning to end. We will always endeavour to obtain the best possible outcome and fight to protect the best interests of both you and your children.
Legal matters are particularly complex, confusing, and time-consuming especially when we all have a range of commitments in life that keep us occupied. This is exactly why we understand just how stressful they can be, and our goal is to minimise this for you.
In our approach to clients, we think it extremely important to simplify matters as much as possible, guide you through every step of the process, as well as be there for you whenever you need us so that you can get back to focusing on things that matter. Being a smaller, close-knit firm, we can offer you a level of support that is incomparable to that of larger firms due to their size and outdated approach.
We are confident in our abilities and our client’s successes speak for themselves, check out our client testimonials here.