What is a Child Arrangements Order?
Child arrangement orders were formerly known as residence orders and contact orders. They are made under the Children Act 1989 as amended by the Children and Families Act 2014, and settle arrangements regarding whom the child is to live with(residence), and who they will have contact with.
Orders about who the child is to live with
A child arrangements order may be made concerning the residence of a child and remains in place until the order ceases (or until the child reaches 18). It is always best for the parents to come to a mutually acceptable agreement as to who the child is to live with and, of course, to agree contact arrangements with the other parent.
However, where an agreement cannot be reached it may become necessary to ask the court to decide. Before this happens, the applicant must usually attend a meeting called a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). An application can then be made to the court for a child arrangements order. The court fee for the application is currently £215.
Who can apply?
There is a range of people who can apply for a child arrangements orders. It does not just not apply to parents. In addition to a parent of the child, the following can apply:
- a guardian
- a step-parent who has treated the child as ‘a child of the family’
- any other person who has obtained the consent of all those with Parental Responsibility
- any person who, if the child is in care, has the consent of the Local Authority
- any person who has obtained the permission of those who already have a Residence Order (granted before 22 April2014) or a Child Arrangements Order for the child
- anyone who the child has lived with for at least 3 years within the past 5 years (and which has not ended more than 3 months before the application
- a foster parent, if the child has lived with them for at least a year immediately preceding the application to court.
Anyone else must obtain the permission of the court if they wish to make an application.
The Court may or may not request CAFCASS to prepare a report to help the court made its decision. If so, CAFCASS will probably speak with the people involved in the case, such as parents and grandparents, and sometimes the children themselves if they are older. CAFCASS then gives its recommendations to the court.
Making an order
The welfare principle will be the court’s paramount consideration in reaching its decision. The court must consider what is known as the welfare checklist set out in the Children Act 1989. This includes the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the children, and their physical, emotional and educational needs.
Where a child arrangements order is made as to who the child lives with, the person with whom a child is to live with is allowed to take the child out of England and Wales for up to one month without the permission of anyone else with parental responsibility.
The court has discretion to make ‘activity directions’ when making such an order, for instance, requiring a parent to attend parenting classes or counselling sessions. The type of activities under an activity direction can also be any other programmes, classes and counselling or guidance sessions which may help with establishing, maintaining or improving involvement in the child’s life. However, the court can only make such directions or conditions if it is satisfied that:
- The activity is appropriate in the circumstances
- The provider of the activity concerned is suitable to provide it, and
- The activity is available in a place that the person can reasonably travel to
A child arrangements order as to who the child lives with does not have the effect of removing the parental responsibility from anyone who has parental responsibility. Furthermore, the order will grant parental responsibility to a father who did not previously have parental responsibility before the order was made.
If a child arrangements order is made in favour of someone else, for instance, a grandparent or older sibling, parental responsibility will automatically be given to that party by virtue of the order.
A child arrangements order can provide for ‘shared care’. However, this does not necessarily mean shared equally in terms of time. Rather, the focus is on the quality of time to be spent with each parent. For instance, this may mean alternative weeks and weekends with each parent, shared holiday time, and alternating Christmas between them.
Can it be varied?
If the parties agree to a change in residence then the court does not have to approve the change. However, if one of the parties is unhappy with the situation after a child arrangements order has been made, a further application to the court can be made.
It is most likely that arrangements need to be reviewed from time to time, for instance, if a child moves school or a parent’s employment changes. However, changes to residence should not be made unilaterally: ideally, the parties will come to an agreement to vary the living arrangements to avoid the time, stress and expense of going back to court.