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A child arrangements order is an order from the Court setting out arrangements for your child to live and spend time with both parents. Child arrangements orders replace Contact Orders and Residence Orders.
It is not compulsory to have a child arrangements order to provide you with access to your child. Living arrangements and contact can normally be agreed between the parents without the need for a child arrangements order. However, you will need to make a child arrangement order application if you cannot agree as parents, or if you feel a child or grandchild is being denied a relationship with you.
How to get a child arrangements order
An application needs to be made to the Court for a child arrangements order. However, before an application is made both parties are required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is designed to establish whether the parties might be able to reach an agreement through a process of mediation, rather than going to court.
If an agreement cannot be reached, a court form must be completed and submitted to the court with all relevant details. If you choose to appoint Woolley & Co, your lawyer will prepare the application on your behalf and arrange for this to be issued and served upon the other party before arranging representation at the first court hearing. This is what we call stage one. The application can be quite involved and in stage one will include the following;
- preparation of the application to include a short statement relating to the issues in dispute;
- preparing any supplementary application if there is any alleged risk of harm to the child where they are currently living;
- drafting all the papers for your approval and then lodging them with the Court for issue. It is usual for the application to be lodged in the Court that is nearest to where the child is living;
- arranging for service of the papers on all relevant parties;
- filing the certificate of service with the court;
- advice of the date for the Court hearing and arranging legal representation for you.
Often matters will be agreed and concluded at the first hearing.
If not, there will be further stages to be followed which can include filing of evidence in the form of statements and/or the preparation of a report by an officer of CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) who will make recommendations to the court to assist the court in making a decision. This is called stage two and would include at least one further court hearing.
The third and final stage would be the final hearing at which time the court will consider all evidence before making a final decision.
How long it takes to get a child arrangements order will depend on several factors, for example how willing both parties are to reach an agreement, the proposals being made and the evidence needed as well as Court diaries and availability.
Sometimes a court will make an interim child arrangements order. This is a temporary order, put in place for example to return the child to the care of one parent or to make sure some contact is taking place, while further court hearings take place.
Common questions about child arrangements orders
What happens at a child arrangements order hearing?
Each hearing is slightly different. At the first hearing, the court will be focused on understanding what issues are in dispute and working out the next steps to take before a decision is taken. The court will try to encourage the parties to resolve the matter by agreement. If this is the case the court will convert the agreement into a final order and this will end the case.
If agreement cannot be reached and the case progresses, further court hearings may be required at which the court may consider evidence from CAFCASS and the more detailed facts of the case. This could include a Fact Finding Hearing or a Dispute Resolution or Review Hearing. It is usual for both parents to give evidence if the case proceeds to a Fact Finding Hearing. A significant amount of information will be gathered for a final hearing and both parents will usually give evidence at that hearing along with CAFCASS or other experts if involved.
If you appoint Woolley & Co your lawyer will guide and support you through each stage.
Can a child arrangements order be changed?
You can apply to the court to vary a child arrangements order, again if this is something you are unable to agree with the other parent. You should apply to vary the terms of the order, rather than denying access or breaching the order and potentially allowing the other party to apply for enforcement proceedings.
How long does a child arrangements order last?
A child arrangements order for contact usually lapses when the child reaches the age of 16. A child arrangements order which only says where the child will live (traditionally called residence) will continue until the child is 18, unless specifically stated otherwise in the order, or the court decides it should come to an end sooner.
Of course, if the parents are in agreement they can change the arrangements for the care of their child, without the need for an order, at any time.
How much does a child arrangements order cost? H2
This will largely depend on how much help you have from a lawyer. There is a court fee of £215 to apply for the court order. The costs of legal advice and support will depend on the complexity of your case and whether agreement can be reached at stage one, or the case goes all the way through to a final hearing. If the case does progress to a final hearing you should realistically expect the costs to be anything from £5,000 upwards.
Woolley & Co, Solicitors can often offer a fixed price for different stages depending on individual circumstances. Your lawyer will discuss likely costs in a free 30-minute telephone consultation. Request a call using our online form or call 0800 321 3832 to speak to a family solicitor today.
Can I get legal aid for a child arrangements order?
Since the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into force public funding for children applications, essentially getting financial help when appealing to a court to get a Child Arrangement Orders has been withdrawn. There are now very limited circumstances in which legal aid is available and you are advised to check the Government website here.
Can a grandparent apply for a child arrangements order?
It is not completely uncommon for grandparents to apply for a child arrangements order in order to see their grandchildren following the divorce or separation of their parents. Grandparents however need to go through an additional stage, before they apply for an order. They need permission from the court to make an application.
There are some steps a grandparent can try before making an application to the courts. Attempting to reach an agreement with the parent(s) should be the starting point. If the relationship has broken down to the point that sitting down and talking things through is not possible, put it in writing. Writing things down will help you gather your thoughts and express them in a clear way. If that fails and the parents will not agree to mediation, a Woolley & Co family lawyer can guide you through the process of making an application for a child arrangements order to the court, call 0800 321 3832 or complete our online form.