When two people have a child and then sadly separate or divorce, parents can worry about what will happen with arrangements for the children. In most cases parents can agree between themselves or come to an agreement with the assistance of a neutral family consultant or mediator. It may be decided that a child will spend equal amounts of time with each parent or that a child will have their main base with one parent and spend a defined or flexible amount of time with the other parent.
On some occasions, parents will disagree about child arrangements. In these situations, it may be appropriate for a parent to obtain legal advice from a specialist family solicitor and, if necessary, apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order (CAO). A CAO regulates with whom a child is to live, spend time with or otherwise have contact with, and when.
How can I apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
In most cases, before an application can be made to court for a CAO, it will be necessary for you to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is a meeting conducted by an authorised family mediator to assess the suitability of mediation in resolving your dispute. If the other parent refuses to attend, or if the mediator otherwise concludes your dispute is not suitable for mediation, they will sign a MIAM certificate. Details of the MIAM must be included in your court application.
The application is made by submitting a Form C100, either online or on paper. The Form C100 sets out what you are applying for. It may be that you are applying for an order that a child lives with you and spends time with the other parent (perhaps supervised or supported by someone else if there are safeguarding concerns), that a child lives with both parents, or in extreme cases, that a child has no direct and/or indirect contact with the other parent – although this is rare.
If there are any safeguarding risks such as emotional or physical harm to the child, then a Form C1A will also need to be completed.
There are also other types of orders that you may consider applying for:
- Prohibited Steps Order (PSO) - a PSO can restrict a parent’s right and responsibility to take decisions on a range of matters relating to a child. They can stop a parent from unliterally (without the other parent’s consent) changing a child’s school, changing a child’s name, or relocating to another part of the country or abroad.
- Specific Issue Order (SIO) - a SIO is used for a concise issue in dispute that has arisen between parents. It can be used to resolve disputes relating to education, religion, medical treatment and planned relocation.
What the court will consider when dealing with an application for a CAO
The court will need to ascertain what is the best interest of the child and in doing so they look to the criteria known as the Welfare Checklist. This is set out in Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989:
1) The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding).
2) Physical, emotional and educational needs (short and long term).
3) The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances.
The court will try and make a decision that causes the least disruption to a child’s life.
4) Age, sex, background and any characteristics of the child which the court considers relevant.
5) Any harm (ill-treatment) which they have suffered or is at risk of suffering.
The court will need to consider a potential risk to the child and issue an order which reflect this. In some cases, the order could contain protective measures to ensure the child is safeguarded.
6) How capable each of their parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs.
There is no assumption that a child is better placed with a mother than the father.
7) The range of powers available to the court under the CA 1989 in the proceedings in question.
The court will consider every option and it is their discretion as to which order they make, even if it has not been applied for.
I have now obtained a Child Arrangements Order, what does this mean?
A final CAO, which may also include a PSO or SIO, is legally binding. This means that the terms of the order must be followed, and it is capable of being enforced if either parent does not comply with its terms. For example, by withholding contact. A CAO is capable of being varied at a later date if either parent feels that its terms are no longer meeting the needs of the child and/or there is a change in circumstances.
For further advice and information, or if we can be of assistance regarding any other family matter, or matrimonial please contact our family team