The process of co-parenting after the breakdown of a relationship can be a challenging thing to navigate and whilst people would like to make arrangements between themselves, sometimes Court assistance is required.
Below, we will discuss how the Court can get involved and the Orders that they can make.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
Found in section 8 of the Children Act 1989, a Child Arrangements Order can be applied for to specify who the child lives with, spends time/has contact with and when such contact/time spent should occur. The law was changed in 2014 to unify the previous ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ Orders into one singular Child Arrangements Order.
They are the only way to make a legally binding agreement regarding time spent with a child. Solicitors can aid negotiations and help an agreement to be reached but if you want a legal document, a Court application is required.
Each Order will be granted based on the individual circumstances and with paramount consideration to what is in the best interest of the child or children involved. Courts will only make Orders if considered necessary to the child’s welfare.
A Child Arrangements Order can aid with many things, including the following:-
- Time spent over holiday periods – This is a valuable tool for parents experiencing separation as it sets out a plan for these times of the year, such as Christmas, where conflict may arise as they are considered family times and emotions can be heightened.
- Stepped approach – If there has been limited contact, this Order can assist in providing a gradual approach to reintroduction to the children and increased contact.
- Handovers – If the parents cannot facilitate the handover of a child themselves, this Order can specify when and how this is done which can help relieve certain concerns and pressures.
Who can obtain a Child Arrangements Order?
Most commonly an application is made by the parent who feels that they do not spend enough time with their child and wants to increase this. However, an Order can also be obtained when a parent feels that the child’s time with the other needs to be reduced. In this instance, they can apply for an Order to be varied or stopped, or simply defined.
It is of course a challenge to make a parent have contact with a child if they do not want to.
What is the process?
Generally, once an application is made the Court will list the matter for a hearing and parties and their legal representatives will attend and present their position.
A Court representative, known as a Cafcass officer will usually be at Court to help aid discussions and will speak to both parties beforehand to try and narrow any issues.
The Court will then either formalise any agreement reached in a Child Arrangements Order, or will provide a temporary Order to be adhered to by the parties until such a date that a further hearing can take place.
Whilst some matters settle and reach an agreement at the initial hearing, or through subsequent solicitor negotiations, this is not always the case and further hearings may be required until a final Order can be put in place.
Can they be changed?
An application to vary an Order can be made by either party and will only occur if the person applying can show that these changes are in the best interests of the children. Changes, even if agreed by the parties, will only be legally binding if they are formally changed in the Court Order.
Is there anything to consider before making an application?
Despite most people applying with the best interests of their children at heart, Children Act proceedings can be lengthy, drawn out and sometimes emotionally and financially draining. Whilst there is often no limits one would go for their child, this is by no means a quick or easy solution. Our solicitors are here to guide you through the process and provide support and advice in a time where you may be feeling at your most vulnerable.
Where an agreement between the parties can be reached that is always the best option. A parenting plan can be a useful way of confirming such an agreement in a formal way that avoids the Court and this is something that a solicitor could also assist you with.