Access to Children

Ryan Zwetschnikow (Student)

If you have children with an ex-partner then it is possible that you may not be able to reach an agreement about who the children live with and how often the children see the non-resident partner. If this happens then you may need to apply for a child arrangement order.

What is a child arrangement order?

A Child Arrangement Order (CAO) is a legally binding court order which stipulates the arrangements surrounding the child. A CAO stipulates who the child is to primarily live with and how much time the child will spend with each parent. Equally, a CAO could state that the child’s time is to be spent equally between both parents.  A CAO usually lasts until the child reaches 16 years of age. However, in certain circumstances, this can be extended until the child reaches 18 years of age. The welfare of the child are paramount when the court makes a CAO. If separated parents resume their relationship and return to sharing the same residence, the CAO will expire after six months. A CAO is not necessarily set in stone, it may be varied in the future.

Who can apply for a CAO?

Parents named on the birth certificate may apply for a CAO, as well as stepparents, guardians, and anyone else who has parental responsibility over the child. Any person seeking a CAO over a child that does not have parental responsibility, will require the court’s permission before beginning the application process.

What is the process?

Before court proceedings can begin all parties must attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). The aim of an MIAM is to encourage the parties to reach an agreement without initiating court proceedings. There are certain circumstances where MIAMs are not compulsory, such as where one party has been subject to domestic violence from the other party. Even if this is the case, however, mediators may still be able to help as they should be able to conduct the process without the parties being in the same room or even remotely, via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. To begin court proceedings the parties must complete a C100 court form. The C100 form and a sum of £232 will need to be paid to the court. At each part of the process, the court will push for an agreement to be made between the parties. Any agreement made by the parties, during proceedings will be implemented by the court. This agreement will become legally binding.

The first hearing is called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). This hearing aims to outline the issues which are disputed by the parties. Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Staff (CAFCASS) attend FHDRA hearings. CAFCASS officers are concerned with the welfare of the child at the centre of the proceedings. Providing the court has directed CAFCASS to produce a report a Dispute Resolution Hearing (DRH) will be scheduled. This report will aid the court making an order which is in the best interests of the child. This hearing will allow each party to present evidence to the court. A final hearing will be scheduled if an agreement cannot be reached at a DRH. At a final hearing, both parties will be able to give oral evidence, which can be questioned by the opposing party. This is subject to exceptions, such as prior domestic violence between the parties. If an agreement cannot be made, the judge implements an appropriate CAO, reflecting the child’s best interests.

 Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic can assist and advise on this process. If you would like an appointment, please contact 01782 294800 or email to arrange an appointment.

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