When separated parents can’t agree arrangements for their children the court has the power to decide what those arrangements should be. This is called a Child Arrangements Order. This Order records which parent the children shall live with (a “Live With Order”) and which parent they will spend time with (a “Spend With Order”). The court also has the power to order that care of the children is shared between parents commonly referred to as shared care arrangement.
A Spend With Order usually involves the children spending time with a parent on weekends and during the school holidays. It can also involve spending overnights during the school week or spending time together after school.
The Court’s powers extend to making arrangements for children to speak to a parent over the phone or on video such as FaceTime or WhatsApp and to exchange messages and cards.
A Child Arrangements Order is legally binding on parents once made and parents are expected to comply with the Court Order. If a parent wants to change the arrangements made under the Order and the other parent does not agree with the changes, the parent must apply to the court for permission to change the arrangements recorded in the Order. A parent should not unilaterally change the arrangements themselves otherwise they risk an application to the Court to enforce the order and the parent is at risk of the court imposing a penalty for breaching the Order.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
Some parents have an automatic right to make an application whereas others must apply to the court for permission to apply. A person with an automatic right includes:
- a) Any parent
- b) A Step-parent (including those in a civil partnership);
- c) Any person with whom the child has lived for at least 3 years (this does not have to be continuous)
- d) A Local Authority foster parent
- e) A relative of a child who has lived with them for a period of at least one year preceding the application a relative means a grandparent, sister, brother, aunt or uncle
- f) If you already have a child arrangements order in your favour, you can also apply straight away.
The permission of the Court is required by a person or persons who do not have Parental Responsibility such as a grandparent with whom a child has not lived as in the list above. A Father who has not been named on the birth certificate and doesn’t have Parental Responsibility automatically is not required to apply for permission to make an application.
When should I apply?
You should only make an application if you cannot agree arrangements for the children or you have agreed arrangements, but arrangements keep breaking down due to the fault of one of the parents.
If arrangements are working well after you have separated there is no need to apply to the court for an Order because you are making it work between you.
An Order is necessary to give children security and certainty about where they will be living and which parent they will be spending time with. The aim is to avoid conflict between parents who cannot agree arrangements by taking that decision making away from them.
Parents are encouraged to try mediation to help them agree arrangements before making an application to the court.