A Child Arrangements Order is an order that is made by the court pursuant to Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. Such orders regulate whom a child is to live with or spend time with.
Who can apply for a child arrangements order?
An application for a Child Arrangements Order can be made by any of the following individuals without permission from the court:
- A parent
- A guardian
- Special guardians
- A person in a marriage or civil partnership where the child is a child of the family
- Anyone who holds parental responsibility for the child
- Anyone who has lived with the child for three years or longer
If any other individual, who is not in the list above, wishes to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order, then they would first need to apply for permission from the court to make the application.
How do you apply for a child arrangements order?
The very first step, before any application is made to the court, is for the parties to attend a MIAM. A MIAM is a mediation meeting where a mediator meets with the parties to assess whether their dispute can be resolved through mediation.
If the mediator believes that the dispute can be resolved through mediation, they will arrange a mediation session with the parties. If however the mediator does not believe that the case is suitable for mediation, then they will sign a form confirming this, which would need to be attached to any application to the court.
There are exceptions as to when mediation is not required such as when either of the parties have been a victim of domestic violence.
Once the parties have attended a MIAM or have established that there is an exemption, the next step is to make an application to the court by using a C100 form. This form can be obtained online or at a court office.
Once the court office has issued the application, the first hearing will be listed. The first hearing is known as a FHDRA (First Hearing Directions Resolution Appointment). At this hearing, the court will make directions for any information or documents that are required to resolve the matter. This may include, but is not limited to, witness statements from the parties or a welfare report from an officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). The court will also list a further hearing at this point.
The next hearing would be a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). At this hearing the court will review all of the evidence and try to work with the parties to reach an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the court will list the case for a final hearing, where the court would make a final order.
How long is a child arrangements order in force?
Pursuant to section 91(10) of the Children Act 1989 a child arrangements order in respect of whom a child is to spend time with will remain in force until the subject child turns 16.
A child arrangements order with respect to whom a child is to live with (previously known as “custody”) remains in force until the subject child turns 18. It is important to note however, that courts are often reluctant to enforce this type of order after the child turns 16.