It is an unfortunate statistic that there is an increase in the number of people separating and divorcing in the month of January, and the decision to separate is never an easy one.
Whether the decision was yours or your partner’s you are still likely to experience a range of emotions. Even when a separation has been expected, it is common to feel a sense of shock or numbness as you begin to work through the practicalities that the decision involves. You might also feel anxious about the future and overwhelmed by the number of decisions you need to make. If the decision wasn’t one you were either expecting or wanting then you may feel angry, sadness and loss.
When a marriage or relationship does break down, one of the most important considerations are the children, and the impact the separation will have on them.
Family law is clear on what happens when married couples divorce, but not all unmarried couples are aware of their rights and obligations if they have children and their relationship breaks down. The majority of parents put their child’s happiness and wellbeing at the forefront of decisions when they separate from the other parent, but this is not always the case. If a couple cannot agree on what will happen to their children, then the next step may be to apply for a Child Arrangement Order.
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order is a court order that sets out who has responsibility for the care of a child. It will include:
- Who they live with
- Where they live
- When and how the children will see both parents
It can also set out other types of contact, such as through phone calls, video calls, cards and letters etc.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order is most commonly issued to the biological parents of a child when those parents separate or divorce. However, this is not always the case. The following people can apply for an order without prior permission from the court:
- A parent guardian or special guardian of the child
- A spouse or civil partner if the child is part of that family
- Someone with parental responsibility
- Someone who already has a residence order for that child
- Someone who the child has lived with for more than three years
It is not uncommon for grandparents to apply for a Child Protection Order if they feel their access to their grandchild is being unfairly restricted. However, unless the grandparent is also considered a guardian of the child, they would have to go through an additional step of applying to the Court for permission to seek a Child Arrangement Order before they can begin the process.
This same rule applies to anyone else in the child’s life who is not considered to have parental responsibility.
How do I apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
You will need to obtain a signed Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) form before you can make an application for a Child Arrangement Order. All parties are required to attend this meeting, unless certain exceptions apply – such as domestic abuse. During the meeting, a qualified mediator will consider whether an agreement on child arrangements might be reached through an alternative dispute resolution process such as mediation, or whether the case will still go to the Court.
An application for a Child Arrangement Order is made on a C100 form. This sets out the details of the children and the parties involved. You will be asked to state which orders you are seeking and why.
Once you have completed the C100 form, you will need to send it to the court in triplicate along with the court fee which is currently £232, unless you are eligible for a fee exemption.
When the court receives the application, it will set a date for everyone involved in the application to have a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA).
The court will send a copy of the application to the other party, and they must complete a acknowledgement form and return it to the court to confirm that they have seen the papers.
How long does a Child Arrangement Order last?
Generally, it will expire when the child turns 18 years old – unless otherwise stated.
Is a Child Arrangement Order legally binding?
Yes, this order is legally binding. If a parent breaches it, they will be in contempt of court which could mean fines, enforcement orders or unpaid work in the community.
How can we help?
Getting the right support early on to guide you through a legal separation can make an enormous difference to how well you and the children cope with the split.
Taking professional advice from a specialist family lawyer will ensure that you have someone on the side who understands your situation, knows the law and how the court process works. They can help you to understand the likely outcome of the order and help you to change or improve the outcome.
This is a complex area of the law and going to court is a costly process. Seeking advice early on can help avoid these fees by negotiation and settling the case amicably. If you are in need of some advice regarding a separation or Child Arrangement Order, contact our Family department on 01603 677077.