Making child arrangements after divorce or separation
Some of the most challenging decisions couples have to make when their relationship ends are around child living arrangements after divorce. Who will they live with and where? How will both parents have enough contact and presence in their lives? The parent moving away from the family home often has concerns about being involved enough in decisions concerning their children. So, how can you agree suitable arrangements between you? And how long will it take, and will it be expensive?
Do I have to get a Child Arrangements Order from the court?
No. A Child Arrangements Order is usually only needed if there is parental conflict, or one parent is not cooperating in discussions, or strongly disagrees with the proposed arrangements and a compromise cannot be found.
Disagreements between parents can be around one parent feeling they do not see their children as often as they would like, or if there are concerns about the care their children receive from one parent, or when the children themselves have concerns about their time with one of their parents.
How do we decide on child arrangements?
It is much better for everyone involved if you and your ex-partner can agree childcare arrangements between you without having to go through the courts. However, this is often easier said than done when a relationship breaks down if you no longer communicate well with each other. One of you might feel uncomfortable about your child’s safety or welfare. The two parents might live a long way apart, making it difficult to arrange meetings. Or one or both of you might have new partners, which can be difficult for the other parent to accept. Or it could be that the children are uncomfortable about the way things will work.
What if we can’t decide or agree between ourselves?
If you are not able to come to an agreement by discussing it directly between yourselves, the best way to find a solution that can work for everyone involved without going through the stress, conflict, cost and time involved in court action is through family mediation. Mediation can help you discuss your differences more calmly and objectively, keeping the focus on the issues you need to resolve without getting into arguments. You and your ex-partner will each have an individual Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to begin with to discuss the process with your mediator and explain what their concerns are. If both of you and the mediator agree that mediation can be a way forward to resolve your differences, you will then have one or more joint mediation sessions to try and find a way of moving forward.
But what happens if we can’t agree even after mediation?
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, mediation might not result in an agreement between you. It might be that one of the parents is simply not willing to try mediation. Or, the different positions of the parents might be so far apart that it is impossible for you to negotiate a compromise, even with the help of a family mediator.
If mediation does not result in an agreement, we will be able to issue a mediation certificate, confirming that mediation is not an appropriate method to resolve your differences, which you will need to initiate court action. You will then have to apply for a Child Arrangements Order from the court to decide on the best arrangements for your children.
You will probably need to ask a solicitor to help you make and present your application to the court. Although this is not strictly necessary, it is strongly advisable because the family courts are an unfamiliar environment for many people and they can feel intimidated by the whole process. It is vital to present your case professionally to properly put forward your arguments about why what you want is reasonable and in the best interests of your children.
Child Arrangement Orders do not happen quickly. It can take many months, or even years, of negotiations between solicitors, court hearings and interviews and reports from outside agencies (often CAFCASS) before a final order is made.
What will a Child Arrangements Order cover?
A Child Arrangements Order simply covers all the details of how you plan to care for your child following separation or divorce, including how much time they spend with each parent and when – exactly as you would agree between yourselves through mediation. However, the decision is made by the court, not the parents, and is legally binding on both of you. Therefore, even if you do not like some part of the order, you must comply with it or there could be serious consequences if you breach the court order.
A Child Arrangement Order is based on what the court decides is best for the child, and not necessarily on what each parent wants. They will consider the parents’ wishes, but their focus is firmly on what they think is in the child’s best interests. The court will rely heavily on reports produced by external agencies, often CAFCASS, in making their decision. This is why it is strongly recommended to have your case prepared and presented by a family law specialist solicitor so reasons can be explained to the judge in a way that will convince them that your suggestion is best for your child.
Can a Child Arrangements Order be changed?
A Child Arrangements Order is intended to be a long-term, lasting agreement to work in your child’s interest until they reach the age of 18. However, if there are changes in the child’s or parents’ circumstances – for example, of one of the parents starts a new relationship – and these changes might affect what is in the child’s best interests, an application to amend the Child Arrangements Order – or even make a new one – can be made. However, the court will consider the child’s age at the time of the application in deciding whether changes need to be made. The closer your child is to the age of 18, the less likely the court is probably going to feel the need to change the order or make a new one. And just as with the original Child Arrangements Order, it can turn out to be a lengthy and costly process.
How much will it cost to get a Child Arrangements Order?
Even though it is not necessary to instruct a solicitor to help you make a Child Arrangements Order, it is strongly recommended so that your case can be presented in a way that is most likely to persuade the judge that what you are suggesting is in your child’s best interests. If you represent yourself, the court fees are £232 (2022). If using solicitors, you can expect their fees to be some thousands of pounds because of the large amount of work involved in preparing and presenting your case. And as already mentioned, the process will take many months, possibly much more than a year due to the courts’ waiting lists, during which time your child is growing up without definite plans in place and with all the uncertainty and insecurity that involves.
When a relationship breaks down, it is often a distressing time for all concerned when deciding what arrangements to make for your children and how they will be able to continue to have a good relationship with both parents. The quickest, cheapest and most satisfactory outcome usually comes when the parents can come to an agreement between themselves without having to apply to the courts for them to make the decisions.
Mediation is an excellent and often successful alternative to having to get a Child Arrangements Order if the parents cannot agree between themselves. Mediation is an impartial, unbiased way of helping you put other differences aside and focusing on the important issue you face – how to do what is best for your children and let them have both parents in their lives moving forward.
Contact one of our friendly team to find out how we can help you through this difficult stage. You can call Direct Mediation Services on 0113 4689593, email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the form below for a free call back.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangement Order is an order made by the court when separated or divorced parents cannot agree what arrangements to make about their children. It covers such things as which parent they will live with most of the time, how often the other parent will see them and what arrangements will be made for holidays, birthdays, etc.
Does the court have to decide what arrangements we make about our children after we split?
No. The courts prefer not to have to decide such matters because they are things the parents should agree between themselves. If the parents find it difficult to discuss such sensitive issues after the break-down of their relationship, mediation can provide a much quicker and cheaper way of resolving issues than going to court.
How much will it cost to get a Child Arrangements Order?
The court fee to apply for a Child Arrangements Order is £232 (2022). However, it is usually advisable to have a specialist solicitor help you prepare and make the application and to present your case in court. This could cost several thousand pounds and will be a very long process, often lasting more than a year.
What happens if my ex-partner ignores the terms of a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangement Order is a legally binding order on both parents. If one parent does not comply with the terms of the order, it is a serious matter and can result in the offending parent being taken to court and fined, or in extreme circumstances, even imprisoned.
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