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What is a child arrangement order in a divorce or separation?


Governed by section 8 of the Children Act 1989, Child Arrangement Orders (CAO) are put in place where parents are in dispute to stipulate exactly who a child will spend time with and when, including telephone/video calls and written communication. Normally the parties to a CAO are the parents but sometimes grandparents or other relatives make such an application.

The exact details of each individual CAO and the specifics of the court’s ruling are unique to each family’s needs, but ultimately, any ruling will be made with the child or children in mind, ensuring their health, wellbeing and best interests are front and centre.

In most scenarios, the courts’ approach is to promote and facilitate both parents’ involvement in a child’s upbringing. Courts these days prefer to instil the idea of equality of parenting even if the time a child spends with their parents is not strictly equal.

Do you need a lawyer for a child arrangement order?

You do not necessarily require the involvement of a lawyer for a CAO application but this area of law can be complex, particularly if there are welfare/safeguarding concerns, therefore consulting a child law expert is prudent before you take any irreversible steps.

Given that the living arrangements for children as a result of a divorce or separation can be a significantly emotional matter and as a result, difficult to resolve, the help of a family lawyer and/or independent mediator can make all the difference in you and your ex-partner resolving the issues through agreement which the courts encourage. Taking children matters to court should be viewed as a last resort and should only be taken once all other options have been exhausted. Find out more about a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).

In our experience, many couples who have decided to separate are usually able to reach an agreement on the arrangements of their children with our assistance.

Another reason for seeking the help of a lawyer where child arrangement orders are concerned is that avoiding the courts can significantly reduce the time, cost and emotional stress of the entire process, helping all involved to quickly move on from what will undoubtedly be a difficult time.

How long does it take to get a child arrangement order?

As is the case with many legal processes, the timeframe in which a child arrangement order can be achieved will depend on the particular circumstances of the matter. However, most cases are resolved within a 12-month period.

The reason is that, from the time you or your lawyer submits your application, there is a lead time to the preliminary hearing (FHDRA- First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment) followed by a period in which the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) may produce a report to be considered by the court or interim arrangements are reviewed. More complex cases may involve statements and experts which will impact on the length of the proceedings

What about interim child arrangement orders?

In some cases, the court may issue an interim child arrangement order. These are ordered as a temporary measure to be reviewed at a later hearing and often involve time with a parent.

Can a grandparent apply for a child arrangement order?

Although a child’s grandparents may form a significant part of their lives, in the event of a divorce or separation, they can at times find themselves at odds with a parent as to what time, if any, they should have with their grandchildren and are often left with little option but to apply for a CAO.

It is important to note that, in the eyes of the court, grandparents who do not hold parental responsibility for their grandchildren are not granted the automatic right to apply for a CAO and are only permitted to do in particular circumstances. The court will consider the application of a grandparent based on the following:

  • Cohabitation: has the child lived with their grandparents for an extended period (one year or more) prior to the application?
  • Personal circumstances: the court will review the circumstances of the divorce and all parties involved, and
  • Impact on the child: as above, the court will assess the impact on the child in the absence of their grandparent(s).

Does a child arrangement order ever expire?

This depends on the type of CAO. A time with order (formerly known as access and contact) will last until the child reaches the age of 16, or earlier if the court decides or unless the circumstances of the case are exceptional. A live with order, (formerly known as custody and residence) will cease when a child reaches the age of 18, or earlier if the court decides or unless the circumstances of the case are exceptional. If the parents reconcile and live together for six months or longer, the order will also cease.

Can child arrangement orders be changed?

It is understandable that arrangements ordered for children may need to be amended as they age and their own wishes and feelings become clearer for their parents to consider.  Parents are able to make alternative arrangements, for the benefit of their children, by agreement if they wish. They can record their agreement in writing in a Parenting Plan or in correspondence through lawyers.

In the event that one parent feels that an order is no longer in a child’s best interests but the other parent does not agree, an application to the court to vary the order may be necessary as orders are binding until they cease. However, as stated above, court is a last case resort and parents are encouraged to discuss the issues and explore the cause(s) behind the issues which can involve the assistance of a lawyer and/or independent mediator.

How to get a child arrangement order?

A CAO is applied for on form C100 which is accompanied by a C1A form if there are welfare concerns. The applicant will need to attend a MIAM with an independent mediator before the application will be accepted by the court unless certain exemptions apply.

The current court fee is £215 for a CAO.

Video transcript

My name’s Lindsay Halliwell. I am a family solicitor and accredited mediator and I work at Steele Raymond. So, my approach in guiding clients through children matters is one of a supporting hand.

I’m there to help clients make their own decisions about their children’s arrangements, but I’m here to give legal advice at the same time, so that you’re realistic with what you’re suggesting for arrangements with your ex-partner. And it may be that I’m encouraging you to talk to your ex-partner on your own, it may be that I’m encouraging you to talk to your ex-partner with a third person such as a mediator who is a neutral that can help make decisions with you.

It may be that actually I’m guiding you through the court process which is always the last-case resort. You’re taking advice from me in a way to help you move forward to make your own decisions. Even if we’re going down the court route it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to put a final hearing. The idea is for me to give you some ideas some suggestions, and how to resolve things but to keep you on track with the relevant issues.

You can hear a lot of distracting information and allegations in children matters. I’m here to help you focus on what’s important, ignore the noise that isn’t important, and help you move forward with your children arrangements.

Contact us

To speak to one of our solicitors or to arrange an initial divorce consultation, please contact Lindsay Halliwell or a member of our family team on 01202 983999. Alternatively, you can enquire using the form below. 

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