Child arrangement orders and parental responsibility
This fact sheet covers common questions about parental responsibility and child arrangement orders.
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
A child arrangement order regulates the arrangements for a child to spend time with, have contact with or live with the person named in the order. It is sometimes referred to as a “Section 8 Order”.
Can I apply?
You can make an application to the court for a Child Arrangement Order if:
- you are the parent, guardian or special guardian of a child;
- you are the child’s Step-Parent;
- if the child has lived with you for at least three years (out of the last five years, including in the last three months);
- you have parental responsibility; or
- you have a residence order in respect of the child.
You may also apply for a Child Arrangement Order if you obtain the consent of everyone with parental responsibility or permission of the court. If you are not one of the people listed above then you must first apply to the court for permission or leave from the court to apply.
What does Parental Responsibility mean?
Parental responsibility is defined as all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority that, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property.
Parental responsibility includes, but is not limited to:
- the right and duty to care for the child and provide a home
- to determine where the child should live
- to ensure that if the child is of compulsory school age, they receive appropriate education
- to appoint a guardian
- to consent to medical treatment or obtain appropriate treatment for the child
- to consent to the child’s marriage
- to name the child
- to remove the child from the jurisdiction
What does Contact mean?
Contact means the time a child spends with the person named in the order including:
- direct contact between the child and the person named in the order;
- overnight staying contact;
- supervised contact, and
- indirect contact through cards, letters.
How long can the Child Arrangement Order last?
The court will determine how long the Child Arrangement will last. Usually if the order regulates who the child is to live with the order will last until the child is 18 years and if the order regulates the contact then this will usually ends when the child is 16 but each case differs.
How do I apply?
Before applying to the court the applicant is required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (or known as MIAMs) with a mediator unless you are exempt for reasons such as evidence of domestic violence, urgency (and there are strict rules surrounding when an application is urgent) or child protection concerns. The other party to the proceedings will also be invited to attend mediation.
The applicant form is called a C100. This is a specific court form which sets out the details of your application such as who the parties are and what order(s) you would like the court to make and brief reasons for making your application. You may also be required to complete an additional form if there are child protection concerns for example. The next stage is to file the application with the court with the appropriate court fee.
What happens once the court receives my application?
Upon receiving your application for a Child Arrangement Order the court will set a time and place for you and the other party to attend court. The first hearing is called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (and often referred to as FHDRA) and should ordinarily take place in week 5 following the court issuing the application.
The applicant and the other party known as the Respondent will be served with the sealed court papers and the Respondent must complete a court form to confirm that they have seen the court papers and to prepare an answer for setting out their position to the application.
What happens at the FHDRA?
The FHDRA is an opportunity for you and the other party to be helped to reach an agreement as to, and understanding of, the issues that divide you and the other party.
A CAFCASS Officer will attend as well as the judge. The CAFCASS Officer will engage in discussions with you and the other party to facilitate discussions. If you cannot reach an agreement the court will set down directions such as ordering a report from CAFCASS or statements to be filed by the parties. The court will then list the case for a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) and if the case requires following the DRA, the case will be listed for a Final Hearing.
Who are CAFCASS?
Cafcass means Children and Family Court Advisory and Support service. They represents children in family court cases and are there to ensure that the children’s’ voices are heard and that the decisions are taking in the child’s best interest. CAFCASS is independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities.
How does the court decide what should happen?
The first concern of the court is the child’s welfare. The Children Act 1989 provides a list of considerations for the judge who has to decide the case, which help guide them in making a decision:
- the wishes and feelings of the child concerned
- the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- the likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision
- the child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics that will be relevant to the court’s decision
- any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
- the capability of the child’s parents (or other relevant people) in meeting the child’s needs, and
- the powers available to the court
The court must also be satisfied that making an order is better for the child than not making an order at all.
Can I withdraw my application?
You can withdraw your application providing you seek permission from the court however it is best to receive legal advice