Info & Advice

When would I need a child arrangements order?

When parents separate, decisions must be made quickly about where, and with whom, the children should live.

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Typically, the father moves out of the family home and the children remain with the mother: this is still the default approach, even in a 21st Century less bound by traditional gender expectations. But what if the mother is the one who leaves: do the children remain with the father or do they follow the mother to her new home? And once the dust has settled, when should the children see the other parent, and how often?

These are usually urgent questions, not only for the parent who has moved out and no longer sees their children on a daily basis, both also for the children. They have lost the daily presence of the absent parent in their lives, and they may miss them a great deal.

Court intervention

Most parents develop informal parenting arrangements between them – if not immediately, then eventually. The absent parent (usually the father) may see the children every other weekend perhaps, collecting the kids from school on the Friday and delivering them to the school gates the following Monday. Additional time during school holidays is also common, but the details depend entirely on the family’s individual circumstances and daily timetables.

But this is an emotional, sensitive topic and sometimes parents struggle to reach mutually acceptable agreements. Maybe the parent with whom the children live is suspicious or resentful of their ex, and reluctant to let them spend much time with the children. Perhaps the parent who moved out is absorbed by their new life or work and not spending as much time as they should their son or daughter, leaving them upset and angry. Family mediation can help in such situations, with a professional mediator helping the estranged parents find common ground. An introductory mediation information and assessment meeting, or MIAM, offers an opportunity to explore mediation and its potential benefits.

Willingness to participate

But of course, mediation cannot even start without a baseline willingness to participate, so is simply not an option if the relationship between the parents is particularly strained. In such situations, the best option is for one of the parents to ask the family courts to intervene and issue a child arrangements order.

In addition to biological parents, guardians and step-parents can also apply for a child arrangements order.

In order to apply to the courts, it is normally necessary to show that you have at least attempted mediation. To do so, submit a MIAM attendance form, signed by the mediator present. An application fee will be payable.

An experienced family lawyer can provide valuable guidance and input when applying.

What is a child arrangements order?

A child arrangements order is a binding legal document drawn up by the family courts. These documents are concerned, as the name suggests, with specifying parental arrangements for the children of divorced or separated couples who have failed to reach an agreement on key issues.

Child arrangements orders have replaced older residence and contact orders, incorporating both issues into one document.

The measures set out in a child arrangements order typically include:

  • Which parent the child will live with.
  • When and for how long they will see the other parent.
  • Any other contact the children will have with the other parent – for example, telephone or video calls, email, letters.

Judges make rulings on these issues based on the best interests of the children and the specifics of this can vary from family to family. For example, while in most cases, children live with one parent on a day-to-da basis and visit the other at set times, in some families a shared care arrangement may be more appropriate, with the child spends roughly equal amounts of time with both parents.

In most cases, a child arrangements order will remain in place until the children turn 18 years old. However, the specifics set out in the document can be altered to reflect new and changing circumstances: apply to the family courts to do so.

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