Formerly known as ‘child custody’, a child arrangement order defines the arrangements that are put in place when parents are unable to agree these for their children.
It is always recommended for parents to agree the arrangements over their children, for example with whom they should live and how often they should see the other parent. Obtaining a child arrangement order through the court is often regarded as a measure of last resort.
To help parents find resolutions for their children if no agreement is reached, The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced “child arrangements orders” from 22 April 2014 to replace orders for contact and residence. This means there is no such thing as “custody” in English law any more.
To give you more information on child arrangement orders, we have detailed the most frequently asked questions on the matter. If you require a more in-depth and personalised response to a question you may have about child arrangement orders, then please fill in the form here and we will be able to offer you some advice as part of your free consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Arrangement Orders
- Will a Judge determine which parent a child will live with in the event of my divorce/seperation?
- How does a Judge decide what arrangements should be in place regarding our children after we separate/divorce?
- As parents, how can we work out a fair arrangement for our child when we are divorced?
- Can a child live part-time with each parent after a divorce?
- If circumstances change, am I able to change the child arrangements we agreed?
- What can I do if my former partner will not let me see the child?
- Can I stop my child being taken to live abroad?
- Can I change my child’s surname after divorce?
- Who has parental responsibility for my child?
- What is parental responsibility?
- After my ex partner re-married, My 3 – year old refers to his new step father as “daddy”. What can I do?
Will a Judge determine which parent a child will live with in the event of my divorce/separation?
A Judge will only make an Order concerning your children if the parents cannot agree on where and with whom a child will live or how much time they will spend with the parent or the person with whom they do not live with.
An application to court for such an Order (known as a Child Arrangement Order) is a step you can take, but regard it as a measure of last resort.
The court will expect the parents to agree over the arrangements for their children.
There is an abundance of material available to assist parents in accessing health and support to resolve a dispute about child arrangements:
- For advice about sorting out child arrangements see the Parent Connection.
- For information about family mediation and to find your nearest mediation service see Family Mediation Council.
- For advice about sorting out arrangements for children and post separation mediation see Advice Now (Sorting out Arrangements for your Children).
- For advice on separation services and options for resolving disputes see Sorting out Separation.
How does a Judge decide what arrangements should be in place regarding our children after we separate/divorce?
If all else fails and there is no option but than to apply to the court for an Order, then the welfare of your children is the only criteria to which the court will have regard when considering the “best arrangements”.
The welfare of your children is informed by a number of factors often referred to as “the welfare checklist” summarised at Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 as follows:-
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding)
- Physical, emotional and educational needs.
- The likely affect on him of any change in his circumstances.
- Age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant.
- Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
- How capable each of his parents are in meeting his needs.
- The range of powers available to the court under the Children Act 1989 in the proceedings in question.
If there is a disagreement about the arrangements because of a welfare issue then the Judge may make a referral to CAFCASS for an independent assessment. See: www.cafcass.gov.uk for more information.
As parents, how can we work out a fair arrangement for our child when we are divorced?
The best advice I can give is to search for the answer to that question through the eyes of your child.
Both parents have a responsibility, if not a duty, to their child to ensure that the arrangements that are made are the best in the circumstances.
If you really cannot sit down with your ex-partner and work out a plan for your child then I would always recommend a referral to a Family Mediation Service. I have links to very good family mediation services and you will find those links on my website.
There is also a recognised course for parents to attend to help them understand how best to work out arrangements for their children after separation. Please refer to the Separated Parents Information Programme.
Can a child live part-time with each parent after a divorce?
If that arrangement works best for your child and is agreed, then that can be put into practice.
If circumstances change, am I able to change the child arrangements we agreed?
Yes, it is inevitable that as children grow older their needs change.
It is always sensible to review the arrangements for children as time passes because in life things never stay the same and always there will be changes either planned or unplanned which need to be considered and may impact upon the current arrangements.
If for example you relocate to a different part of the country with your job then the arrangements whereby your child spends shared time between you and the other parent is not necessarily going to work.
Again the first point of call is to try and agree changes with the other parents and if necessary access mediation to assist you and support with that.
What can I do if my former partner will not let me see the child?
There is now enshrined in the law a presumption that parental involvement in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare.
What that means is that unless there is a very good reason to the contrary, the court will always presume that your child should have the opportunity and be encouraged to spend time with the other parent.
If that other parent is you then my advice would be to first of all try and secure an arrangement which would enable you to see your child and have them spend time with you.
If your former partner is not agreeable to that then there are various channels that you can explore.
First of all you should consult a solicitor for advice and a good family law solicitor would always encourage a referral to mediation.
If mediation fails or your former partner is not wiling to mediate, then as a matter of last resort you can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order.
Can I stop my child being taken to live abroad?
Yes you can.
If you do not agree to your child being taken out of this country to live abroad then the parent seeking to re-locate will be required to make an application to court for the court’s permission.
The court will look very carefully at such an application and only when satisfied that it would be in the best interests of your child to move abroad, will they grant permission.
The case will turn on its facts and in such a situation it is important that you take specialist legal advice.
Can I change my child’s surname after divorce?
You will need the consent of the child’s other parent before you can change the name usually by Deed Poll.
If the other parent is prepared to consent then you would exhibit a letter confirming consent to the Change of Name Deed or alternatively obtain the other parent’s signature to that document as evidence of consent.
If consent is not forthcoming then you will need to apply to the court for the court’s permission to change the child’s surname.
The general principle is that the courts will not grant permission unless there are very persuasive reasons why they should do so.
Who has parental responsibility for my child?
A mother always has parental responsibility.
A father will only have parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or subsequently married the mother after the child’s birth.
Alternatively, if the parents are not married at the time of the birth registration and the father’s surname is registered on the Birth Certificate, the father will have parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility can also be obtained with the agreement of the mother in a written Parental Responsibility Agreement. If in doubt, take advice from your solicitor.
What is parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined in the Children Act 1989 as:
all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property by law
Where parental responsibility is shared by the parents, the decisions concerning children are taken jointly.
Where there is conflict in those decisions, a court can be applied to for a determination.
All decisions concerning your children are important but we particularly see the challenges faced by parents who are not, for example, in agreement over a child’s education or medical treatment.
A father without parental responsibility can sometimes feel “voiceless” where a mother takes those decisions without consulting with the father.
I would always encourage a father to have parental responsibility, where possible.
After my ex partner re-married, My 3 – year old refers to his new step father as “daddy”. What can I do?
There is an abundance of material that suggests that it is not a good idea for step-parents to expect their step-children to call them “Mum “ or “Dad”.
To do so is likely to alienate the child’s natural parent and introduce discord into the family dynamic, which seems to be the case here.
In order to minimise any problems, try drawing the step-father’s attention to supportive material freely available on the internet such as: www.beingastepparent.co.uk
It may be that your ex has not or does not appreciate how you might feel in this situation and a conversation with him/her is certainly something you can explore.
Agreeing the rules in advance is always key and there is no better way to do this than by sitting down together to draw up an agreed “parenting plan”. For more information about this, see: www.cafcass.gov.uk/parentingplan