It’s always important to put the child first and help them cope with the separation as best you can. However, oftentimes when there has been a break down in a relationship, parents can’t always communicate amicably and therefore it isn’t always possible to come to an agreement without involving the court. In these cases the first step is for parents to turn to mediation to help them reach a workable agreement. If such an agreement still cannot be reached, or there are welfare concerns at play, the court may need to get involved and grant a Child Arrangements Order.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is a court order which regulates the arrangements for a child, such as where they will live, if and how they will spend time with both parents, or have contact with any other person. The following people can apply for a Child Arrangements Order:
- Parents or guardians
- Step-parents, or another parent who has parental responsibility by way of a parental responsibility order or agreement
- Anyone who has a ‘live with’ child arrangement order already in their favour
- Anyone who has parental responsibility by being named in a child arrangement order for the child to have contact with them
Every Child Arrangements Order is different because they are based on the unique circumstances of the family and what the best interests of the child are. The court will take into account things like the capabilities of each parent in meeting their child’s needs, the child’s wishes and feelings (based on their age and understanding of the situation), any harm they might have come to or are at risk of suffering, amongst other considerations. In some circumstances, the court may make orders that prevent a parent from taking particular action in relation to their child. In every case the Court's primary concern will be the welfare of the child.
Is a Child Arrangements Order Legally Binding?
Once issued, a Child Arrangements Order is legally binding between the court and the parents or guardians of the child. If the parents or guardians breach the order, they will be in contempt of court, which can lead to fines, enforcement orders or even imprisonment, although the latter is rare. The court does not monitor this, so if one party is breaching the order, the other will have to ask the court to enforce it. It will then be determined if there is a reasonable excuse as to why the order was breached before any action is taken.
Does a Child Arrangements Order Affect Parental Responsibility?
If a couple are married at the time of their child’s birth, they both automatically have parental responsibility. As such, they are both recognised, in a legal sense, as having all the rights and duties associated with the child’s upbringing. If the parents are not married at the time of the child’s birth, the mother will automatically have parental responsibility but the father will only have parental responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate. If he is not named on the birth certificate, parents can sign a parental responsibility agreement giving him responsibility, or he can apply for a court order.
If a Child Arrangements Order specifies that a child is to live with their father, the father will automatically be granted parental responsibility if he does not already have it. On the other hand, if the father does not have parental responsibility and the Child Arrangements Order specifies that the child will have contact with him, but not live with him, the court will then decide whether or not it is appropriate to grant him parental responsibility.
It Is rare for parental responsibility to be removed from either of the child’s parents, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as abusive behaviour. The court will not remove parental responsibility simply because the parent doesn’t want contact with the child or doesn’t want to pay child maintenance.
How Long is a Child Arrangements Order in Force?
Any contact arrangements laid out in a Child Arrangements Order are usually legally binding until the child reaches the age of 16, after which the child should decide how much contact they would like to have with the parent whom they do not live with. In special circumstances, the order may specify a different age. When it comes to who the child lives with, the order remains legally binding until the child reaches the age of 18, but the court tends to be reluctant to enforce such orders beyond the age of 16.
John Fowler Solicitors are highly experienced in dealing with law proceedings regarding children, and we understand the difficulties that parents are often faced with when trying to make arrangements. If you would like to make an application to the court for a Child Arrangements Order, we can do so on your behalf and represent you when the time comes. Contact us at your earliest convenience if you have any questions or require advice, assistance, or support.