27 May What are Child Arrangement Orders?
One of the hardest and most heart-breaking parts of a divorce is making decisions about the child or children of the marriage; and if you can’t reach agreement on what those arrangements will be, then there is the option of applying for a Child Arrangement Order (CAO) through the court.
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
It’s an order made by the court that sets out the following decisions:
· Which parent the child will live with;
· Whether the child will live, spend time with or have contact with the other parent.
Contact can mean a range of different things, from staying overnight, to supervised visits, or indirect contact through letters or cards. In some rare cases, the court may order that no contact is to take place with one parent at all.
It’s also worth noting that the CAO may say which parent the child will live with, but not a specific address; and it may state that the child will live with one parent, or split their time between both. The order will usually set out in detail how this time will be divided.
Who can apply for a CAO?
The following people in the child’s life may automatically apply for a CAO:
· Any parent, guardian or special guardian of the child
· A step parent with parental responsibility through an order or agreement
· Any person with a current residence order for the child
· Anyone in a marriage or a civil partnership (whether or not that marriage subsists) of which the child is a child of the family
· Anyone that the child has lived with for at least three years (does not need to be a continuous period, but time limits apply)
· Anyone who is named in another CAO as having contact with the child
· Anyone who has the consent of all parties to a CAO as a person the child should live with
These are basic guidelines, there are other categories not specifically covered by this article and some rules will apply around some of them; your family lawyer will be able to clarify how they apply to you, and discuss with you whether your circumstances meet the criteria. Others who are not covered under these guidelines may be apply for a CAO, but they will need to get permission from the court.
How do I apply for a CAO?
Before you apply, you will be required to attend a meeting with a mediator to be certain that agreement cannot be reached without a CAO. There are some exceptions to this, in cases of child protection and domestic violence for example. The other parent will also be invited to mediation, which can be done jointly if you are both happy to do so, but the meetings may also be held separately.
If you can’t reach agreement by mediation, then the formal application process begins on a specific court form, which asks you (the applicant) to set out all of the people involved in the case, and what order you would like the court to make. You will also be asked the reasons for making the application. You do not need to give a full statement at this stage, a summary will suffice and there will be an opportunity to provide full and detailed statements later if required..
When the court receives your application, a first court appointment will be arranged for you and the other parent (or people, if others have parental responsibility). The other parties (the respondents) will be given enough time to prepare a response.
What happens at court?
The First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) will look at the application and try to broker agreement between everyone involved. If that isn’t possible, the court will direct what will happen next. This could be commissioning a report for the judge at the final hearing, or it may decide that the child needs their own legal representation. It may order written statements of evidence from everyone involved for the court to hear; or it may adjourn the case for more mediation.
Ultimately, if a decision cannot be made by any other means, the court will hold a final hearing in front of a judge, who will hear evidence from all adult parties and any child experts involved, and make a decision.