Child arrangement orders have been around a long time but we still get lots of questions from worried parents who are in the midst of a separation or divorce about their child custody rights or asking questions about residence and contact or access orders. In this article, children law expert Louise Halford answers your frequently asked questions on child arrangement orders.
What is a child arrangement order?
A child arrangement order is a Court order that sets out parenting arrangements for children when there is a dispute between parents. The order is a combined order as it will set out where the children will live ( this used to be referred to as a custody order or residence order) and the contact arrangements (this used to be referred to as an access order or contact order).
Do I need a child arrangement order?
You only need a child arrangement order if you can’t agree on the parenting arrangements for your children. If you can’t reach an agreement direct then your children law solicitor can help you sort things out by negotiation or by providing legal support during family mediation. The Court will not routinely make a child arrangement order just to record what you have agreed unless there is a history of dispute or a real reason for the order.
Will a child arrangement order let me take my children abroad?
If you are named as the residential parent in a child arrangement order you can take your children abroad on holiday for up to four weeks without needing the other parent’s agreement. However, even with a child arrangement order, you can’t move overseas with your children without the other parent’s agreement or Court order. If the other parent won’t agree to your plans to relocate overseas with the children, then you need to apply for a relocation order.
Can you change a child arrangement order?
A child arrangement order can be changed either by both parents recording that they agree the parenting change or by applying back to Court to vary the child arrangement order. For example, if you agree that the children should be returned home at 6pm rather than at the old time of 5pm, the agreement to the change could be recorded in a text or email without needing to go to the expense of a Court application. However, if your child wants to move to live with you and the other parent won’t agree then you will need to apply to Court to vary the child arrangement order. You should not change the child arrangement order without taking advice as you do not want to be accused of breaching the Court order.
Does a child arrangement order include child support payments?
A child arrangement order does not say if child support should be paid by one parent to the other parent. If you can’t agree on what child support should be paid the Court has limited powers to make a child support order but the Child Maintenance Service can be asked to carry out an assessment of child support liability and can arrange payment.
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Shared care and child arrangement orders
A child arrangement order can specify the parent the children will live with and set out the contact arrangements with the other parent. Alternatively, a child arrangement order can say that parenting is shared and specify how the shared parenting works. It does not necessarily have to be a fifty per cent split of each week. Ideally a child arrangement order will also set out how holiday contact will be arranged. For example, that parents will have alternate year Christmas day contact or that school holiday contact will be divided equally on dates to be agreed between the parents.
With a child arrangement order can you make all important decisions?
If you have a child arrangement order it does not allow you to make all the important decisions for your child, such as choice of school or faith. The other parent is likely to have parental responsibility for your child so you both have equal rights and responsibilities over major decision making. That means if you can’t reach an agreement over an aspect of parenting then either you or the other parent will need to the Court for a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order. The Court will make a decision based on what the judge believes to be in the child’s best interests.
Who can apply for a child arrangement order?
It isn’t just parents who can apply to court for a child arrangement order. There are others who have an automatic right to apply for a child arrangement order such as step parents, a relative if the child have been living with the relative for twelve months or anyone who has looked after the child for three years or more. In addition to those with an automatic right to apply for a child arrangement order, others can apply for permission to apply for a child arrangement order. This typically covers the situation where a grandparent wants an order to have contact with a grandchild.
If you need help with a child arrangement order application our specialist children law solicitors are here to help you.