What could the new Child Arrangements Orders mean for you?
Any relationship breakdown is difficult for those involved, but particularly so for children. This is why the courts’ primary goal is to safeguard a child’s welfare when making decisions regarding their place of residence, parental contact and other issues that may arise when relationship has broken down.
Until recently, a parent could apply for a residence or contact order (the new terms for custody and access) to settle any arrangements regarding where a child would stay, who with and consequently how much contact the other parent could have. However, with changes to the family law system being made in April 2014 by the Children and Families Act 2014, arrangements for a parent’s right to be involved in their child’s life may have just been made easier.
The introduction of a ‘Child Arrangements Order’ in place of the ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ orders potentially allows for more parental involvement with shared parenting being encouraged in the appropriate circumstances.
This is demonstrated in the amendment made to s.1 of the Children Act 1989 by the Children and Families Act 2014, which states that a court should presume that involvement of a parent in the life of their child will further that child’s welfare, and ‘involvement’ can be either direct or indirect. It should be noted, however, that this does not mean equal division of a child’s time and that a parent may only be involved in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm.
What is a “Child Arrangements Order”?
A Child Arrangements Order specifies which parent a child will live with (the resident parent) and the contact arrangements that are in place for the non-resident parent.
When an application for an Order is made, the court will consider a number of factors to safeguard a child’s welfare. These include the wishes and feelings of a child (if the child is old enough to make them known – this age varies from child to child), a child’s needs (physical, emotional, educational etc.), what effects any changes will have on the child and the capability of each parent in meeting the child’s needs.
As part of the Court’s investigations, it may direct that an independent report is prepared by trained professionals who will gather all of the relevant information together, speak to key family members and, where appropriate, the children. Such a report is necessary where there are disputes between the parties which cannot be determined by the Judge without external guidance.
The fact that the two tier system of either possessing a ‘residence order’ or ‘contact order’ has now been replaced by this single ‘Child Arrangements Order’ will allow the parties involved to negotiate their level of involvement as parents which is hoped to encourage better relations and more focus on the practical issues.
Where can I get help to make an application?
If you have any questions about child matters and relationship breakdown or need general advice relating to a range of family law issues then contact us. One of our specialist solicitors can advise you on all aspects of relationship breakdown and child arrangements.