When a relationship involving children breaks-up, the most important consideration for the parents is the making arrangements to ensure the best interests of the children are maintained. In the UK, parents are strongly encouraged by the Courts to try and come to an agreement between themselves on where the children should live and how often the non-custodial parent can visit them. If they cannot come together on certain issues, mediation will be arranged, which involves an impartial third-party facilitating an agreement between the couple.
However, if mediation fails, or is not appropriate in the circumstances (perhaps because there is a history of domestic violence for example), then parents can apply to the Court for a Child Arrangement Order.
The person who starts the proceedings is called the ‘applicant’ and the other party is known as the ‘respondent’.
A Child Arrangement Order replaces the old terms of ‘custody and access’ orders.
Under section 8(1) of the Children Act 1989, as amended, a child arrangements order means an order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following:
Before applying for a Child Arrangement Order, couples must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), except in rare exceptions.
The Child Arrangement Program (CAP) is designed to facilitate an agreement between parents and/or families who are disputing about how arrangements for a child are made after, the parents have separated, for example.
The aim of the Programme is to support the parties in reaching an agreement between themselves. If this is not possible then a quick resolution is sort through the Courts, with the aim of minimising distress to the child and the family as a whole.
The CAP ethos is to avoid litigation if at all possible.
If you require an order urgently then, under certain circumstances, an application can be made to the Court for an emergency order to be granted, and the requirement for a MIAM will be waived.
Cafcass is the public body representing children in the Family Court. If there are welfare issues or other specific issues that need to be addressed in relation to the child, then the Court can order a Cafcass report. The purpose of the report is to ensure the child’s voice is heard and arrangements are made in his or her best interests.
It depends on the complexity of the matter and how willing the parents and/or family members are to agree on arrangements before the case goes to Court. However, the CAP is designed to ensure decisions happen quickly, so your case will be dealt with in weeks or months, not years.
If you are struggling to come to an agreement about arrangements for your children, then it is imperative that you seek the advice and guidance of an experienced family solicitor.