This is a guide to the general court process when applying for a Child Arrangement Order.
If you have a child with a partner it is important to be able to navigate all aspects of the court process following a breakdown of a relationship. You might hear the term Child Arrangement Order during mediation or initial discussions with your lawyer. But what is a Child Arrangement Order?
At any stage of the court proceedings, negotiations can be ongoing or mediation can be undertaken to resolve proceedings. That being said, here’s what you need to know regarding Child Arrangement Orders and the process for applying for one.
Note: Family law, to a certain extent, is subjective and this advice may not apply to your particular circumstances.
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order is an agreement under English family law. It dictates who the child can have contact with and where they can live following the breakdown of a relationship or divorce. It is legally binding, meaning the order must be respected by all parties involved.
Before applying for a Child Arrangement Order
You must usually attend a meeting about mediation before you can apply. A mediation and information meeting (MIAM), can be a hugely beneficial way to resolve issues between you and your partner. However, it isn’t always necessary if:
- You are a victim of your partner’s abuse
- You are applying for a consent order, a document that decides how you will split your assets
You will need these before applying for a Child Arrangement Order:
- Details of the other people (the respondents), including their date of birth (DOB)
- The details of all children involved, including their DOB
- Contact details of the respondents, including their address and contact numbers respondents can be reached on
- Details of your solicitor (only relevant for those with a solicitor)
- All details of previous family court cases you have been involved in
- A signed document to show MIAM attendance (only applicable for those who can go to a MIAM)
- A formal written agreement will be provided to the court to show you are applying for a consent order
Additionally, you should have completed and signed a certificate of suitability (FP9 form) or a copy of the court order appointing a ‘litigation friend’ if any of the people making this application lack a certain level of mental capacity or are younger than 18 years old.
It costs £232 to apply for a Child Arrangement Order. The courts are aware that not all parents or guardians can pay this fee. If you are on benefits or have a low income, you can get help to pay this fee, allowing you to make your application.
When the application has been issued, the court will allocate a date where they decide whether it is suitable for the matter to be heard by Magistrates or referred to a Judge. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will contact both parties by phone. CAFCASS is the Children and Family Court Advisory Service and CAFCASS officers are social workers. CAFCASS are responsible for safeguarding the interests of children involved in court proceedings.
The steps within the court process
After you have applied for your Child Arrangement Order, you will initiate court proceedings. Here’s a breakdown of each proceeding you can go through.
Before any hearings, a CAFCASS officer may be appointed to talk to both parties so they can make recommendations to the court.
First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA)
The FHDRA is used to identify the issues in the dispute and attempt to resolve them. All parties must attend the FHDRA and usually, a CAFCASS officer will also attend. During the hearing, problems are discussed openly and solutions are suggested. Agreements can be reached in this stage and then recorded by the courts. If no agreements are reached, the court will consider what evidence is required to make an informed decision and will make a directions order for the filing of evidence by the next hearing date.
Briefly after this, the court may ask the CAFCASS to produce a report on the welfare of the children before they can decide on the issues in question. This is known as an S7 report. They will speak to both parties and, if appropriate, the children during the proceedings, to produce their report. They may also speak to other family members, teachers and health workers. If there are allegations of domestic violence or child abuse and it is unclear whether or not the allegations are true, a Fact-Finding hearing may occur.
Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA)
By this point, the court will have all the reports, statements and any other information required to make a decision. The DRA is used to resolve as many issues as possible. The court will identify the key issues to be determined and the extent to which those issues can be resolved or narrowed. If an agreement is reached, the court can make an order reflecting those agreements and the proceedings may conclude. If no agreements are made, they will direct the parties to file any further evidence and schedule a final contested hearing
A Final Hearing takes the evidence from all hearings and a judge makes the final decision. The court will hear evidence from the parties and other witnesses. If there is a CAFCASS officer, they will attend court to give evidence. Anyone who does give evidence will be asked questions about their evidence by their own legal representative, the other party’s legal representative and sometimes the judge. This is the last chance in this process to make an agreement between the parties. If this is not achievable, after hearing all the evidence the judge will make a final determination which will be recorded in a final order.
Speak to our family lawyers
Do you still have questions regarding Child Arrangement Orders or the court process? Make sure to get in touch with our family lawyers by contacting your nearest Goodlaw branch. Our Sussex team can be reached on 01273 956 270 and our Surrey team on 01252 471 211.