Where parents are separating or divorcing there will often be disagreement over arrangements for their children. Below we look at how the court can intervene to ensure that any living arrangements are in the best interests of the child.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is a court order setting out the arrangements for a child to spend time with both parents, and in some situations other family members as well.
Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 either parent can apply for a Child Arrangements Order to put in place enforceable arrangements in relation to the time they each spend with their child.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
Families can be complicated, with second marriages or children from different relationships. In some cases the child’s parents may have died, or be considered unfit to care for them. As such, it is not necessarily always the biological parents that will look to the courts to intervene.
Under the 1989 Act an application can be made for a Child Arrangements Order where the person is:
- the parent, guardian or special guardian of the child
- any person who has parental responsibility for the child
- any person who is named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person who the child lives with
- a spouse or civil partner if the child is part of that family
- any person with whom the child has lived with for three or more years.
Wider family members such as grandparents, where they do not otherwise qualify as above, are not prohibited from applying for a Child Arrangements Order, but they must first apply to the court for permission.
What will the court consider when making a Child Arrangements Order?
When making any decision in respect of a child’s upbringing “the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration”. Section 1 of the 1989 Act sets out the following welfare checklist for the court to go through:
- the wishes and feelings of the child in light of their age and understanding
- the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- the child’s age, sex, background or other relevant characteristics
- any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- the ability of the child’s parents or guardians in meeting the child’s needs
- the likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances
- the range of powers available to the court to make any change.
What conditions will the Child Arrangements Order include?
A Child Arrangements Order can often set out where the child will live and how much time they will spend with each parent.
The order can also specify the details of the communication allowed, for example, face-to-face or indirect, as well as any other additional or alternative forms of interaction, such as phone calls, letters or texts.
In some cases, the court will direct that communication only takes place in a specified location or is supervised by a third party. Much will depend on the circumstances of the case, including the capabilities of the parents and the risk of any harm to the child.
How can I find out more about Child Arrangements Orders?
If you want to find out more about applying for a Child Arrangements Order, specialist legal advice should be sought from an expert in family law.
In many cases mediation may be able to help you reach an agreement as to the care and living arrangements of a child without recourse to the courts.
Your legal adviser will be able to talk you through all your options, and help you to decide upon the best course of action in your particular circumstances.