If you and your partner are splitting up, it’s important to work out your children’s living arrangements. The Court will decide if you cannot agree, and this is known as a Child Arrangement Order. So, how does a Child Arrangement Order work and what do you need to know? We explore this topic in more detail, along with the areas you need to consider.
A Child Arrangement Order states where a child will live and with whom, and can include specified time periods, such as rotating weeks with each parent. Usually this applies to a parent or guardian, but in some instances, it might be used to give parental responsibility to another person. The order usually stays in force until the child reaches 18 years.
Planning your children’s living arrangements
There are several factors to consider when you are planning your child’s living and financial arrangements. We have listed some common questions below:
What does your child want? A recent study by Nuffield Family Justice Observatory found that children’s voices were rarely heard in the majority of divorce cases. The impact of a divorce can be devastating to a child. So, if your child has the appropriate level of maturity, it’s important, they feel able to have their say on big decisions, such as where they will live.
What if I don’t agree to sharing my child’s care? Nobody can force you to agree to anything, but you should consider the effects of prolonged disputes on your children. If you or your children are at risk of domestic violence or abuse, the Court will take safeguarding concerns into consideration.
How can we avoid going to Court? You could start by drawing up a ‘parenting plan’, which might also involve supportive family members such as grandparents. This is a written agreement that sets out the arrangements for your children. This isn’t a formal Court order, but it can be useful to show your intentions. Mediation is also used to avoid legal proceedings.
We can’t agree on childcare – what’s next? In the first instance, parents and guardians will be asked to attend a Mediation Information Assessment meeting (MIAM). A qualified mediator will attend to see if an agreement can be made instead of the case going to Court. In cases of domestic violence, this may not be possible, so your solicitor may opt to prepare the paperwork for a Child Arrangement Order.
Will a Child Arrangement Order give us shared care? Shared Care is the outcome in most cases and can still be categorised as shared care even with an unequal division of time. The Court will decide what’s in the best interests of your children. If your circumstances change, the order can be amended. Consider your child’s wellbeing throughout your divorce proceedings, especially if they are settled at their current school and any local activities they enjoy.
How long will it take to obtain a Child Arrangement Order? The length of time will depend on the factors relating to your case and whether there are any safeguarding concerns. It usually takes around 6 – 8 weeks from the date of application until the first Court hearing. It then takes between 6 and 12 months to achieve a final order. Child arrangements are usually agreed at the first hearing unless there are disputes.
What if I cannot afford to apply for a Child Arrangement Order? You might be able to apply for legal aid (Public Funding) for a Child Arrangement Order, but you must be eligible from a financial perspective. The Legal Aid Agency will ask for evidence of your financial situation and about your current circumstances.
How do I apply for a Child Arrangement Order?
If you cannot agree on your child’s living arrangements, then speak to a family lawyer. Our sympathetic and caring team will explain the process, so you know what to expect. We will help you with any child arrangements, including financial provision. We will also help you arrange financial agreements so you can divide up your assets, money and property.
The rules have changed when it comes to a divorce – please read our previous blog, What are the new divorce rules? If you are currently experiencing a relationship breakdown and you have children, seek advice from an expert family solicitor.
If you need advice on child arrangements or divorce, please get in touch or email: Carly.Price@shbsolicitors.co.uk to arrange a face-to-face or telephone appointment.