What is a Child Arrangements Order and Why Would I Need One?


Jane Auty

Whether you are a parent or grandparent of a child, you are able to apply to a Court for a Child Arrangements Order (often referred to as a CAO). Typically, although not limited to, individuals apply for a Child Arrangements Order where either separation of the parents has taken place or there are obstacles being put in the way preventing grandparents from having access to their grandchildren.

Although parents have an automatic right to apply for a CAO, the application cannot be made until resolution via Mediation has been fully explored.

What is a Child Arrangements Order?

Put simply, a Child Arrangements Order is a legally binding order by a Court that regulates with whom a child should live with and the amount of time they should spend with their parents or other family members.

A Child Arrangements Order is legally binding and should be complied with at all times. However, it is possible to agree alternative arrangements which fall out of the scope of the Child Arrangements Order. This allows the individuals to demonstrate an effective co-parenting model yet still have the CAO to fall back on as a fixed position.

Ultimately, a Child Arrangements Order provides a foundation for the wellbeing of the children, often at a time when tensions are running high and feelings for each party are at a low point, typically because of separation or divorce.

How Much does a Child Arrangement Order cost?

There is a Court fee of £232.00.  However, there are certain situations in which you may be ‘fee exempt’ and do not have to pay this Court fee. In addition to the Court fee there will be the associated legal fees payable to the solicitor.

Can a CAO be amended?

Yes. A Child Arrangement Order can be amended informally between the parties. It is always advised to agree and confirm the amendments in writing. Alternatively, you can make a formal application to Court to vary the Order.

How long does a Child Arrangement Order last for?

The contact arrangements set out within a Child Arrangement Order, i.e. the parts which deal with how often the child spends time with their parent(s), will be legally binding until the child reaches the age of 16, unless the order specifically states otherwise. This is in line with section 91(10) of the Children Act 1989. Once a child reaches the age of 16, the family court is usually satisfied that the child can then decide how much contact they would like to have with the parent they do not live with.

On the other hand, the ‘live with’ element of a Child Arrangements Order, i.e. the part which states which parent the child is to live with, will be legally binding until the child is 18 years old. This is largely due to the fact that, in the context of the Children Act 1989, a child means a person under the age of 18. In reality, however, the family court is very reluctant to enforce these orders beyond the age of 16 unless there are exceptional circumstances.

There are different types of Child Arrangements Orders that a Court can make, and the application can also be made on an ‘agreed basis’ where parents or family members are able to agree the arrangements for a child(ren) and simply require a Court to formalise the arrangement via an Order. It is always advised to instruct a Solicitor to prepare this Order for you as there are key legal provisions which will need to be included.

What’s the difference between Custody and a Child Arrangement Order?

Often referred to a Custody or Child Custody, or questions asked such as “who gets custody of the children”, Courts now refer to as Child Arrangements. Essentially the two are the same, but the language used changes the focus from who gets the children to what are the best arrangements for the children.

Why do I need a Child Arrangements Order?

There are many reasons why you might wish to apply to a Court for a Child Arrangements Order, but ultimately, the overarching reason will be to have a legally binding order in place that allows you to spend time with the children when without such an Order you might find yourself being excluded from their upbringing or in disagreement as to the arrangements.

It must also be recognised that a Child Arrangements Order is not so that the adult can spend time with the children, more that the children can spend time with the adult. It is the child’s right to have access with an adult (whether that be a parent or grandparent) and a Court will order what such access looks like based on the best interests of the child.

Child Arrangements Orders are governed by section 8 of the Children Act 1989 and are granted by the Court provided the Court is satisfied that making such an order is in the best interests of the child.

Can Grandparents Apply for a Child Arrangements Order?

In short, yes! The same process must be followed which necessitates the parties involved to take part in mediation as a first port of call, after which, if mediation is deemed inappropriate or ineffective, then Grandparents may apply for a CAO. A grandparent will have to first apply to the Court for “permission” to make an application as they do not have parental responsibility.

A Grandparent may wish to apply for a Child Arrangements Order if there has been a family dispute and maybe one of the parents is now preventing them from spending time with their grandchild. In this instance, a Court could order the parents to allow a defined amount of time periodically for the grandparent and grandchild to spend together.

In certain circumstances, it may be that the Grandparent feels that it is in the best interests of the child for that child to live with them as opposed to the parent. You can read more on this issue in this blog which outlines in detail the options for grandparents when it comes to seeking time with their grandchildren.

What Will a Court Consider when Making a Child Arrangements Order?

In principle, a child can live with either parent after they separate, and on any basis. Often however, separating couples allow their personal feelings towards each other to cloud the most important factor, that being their child’s best interests. When such conflict occurs, it’s often necessary to resolve through Mediation or an application to Court for a Child Arrangement Order.

There are many factors which a court will consider if you are unable to reach your own agreement. These include:

The wishes and feelings of the child. Especially for older children.

Knowing what your child wants and how they feel is an important aspect of creating a solid foundation for future relationships between parent and child. Allowing your child to express their wishes and feelings will give them a feeling of inclusion and giving them the space to input into any agreements will influence their acceptance of any new arrangements.

The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.

Factors such as the child’s physical needs (perhaps accessibility), emotional, (perhaps a young child whose vast majority of time has been spent with one parent more than the other), and education (perhaps the child has built a solid friendship group at a school where they are excelling) will all be a factor in any order being made.

The possible effect on the child of any significant changes in circumstances.

Significant changes in circumstances can disrupt the stability of a child’s emotional wellbeing. If one parent’s geographical location means extensive travel and time away from well-formed friendship groups for example, then a court will consider these factors when ordering an arrangement.

Other factors that a court will consider are the age of the child, any known harm or risk of harm, and how capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs.

There are many reasons why you might wish to apply to Court for a Child Arrangements Order. For example, you may wish to regulate the day-to-day arrangements for a child, change a child’s surname, or sort out disputes which may have arisen in relation to school holidays.  Every case is unique, and it’s always advised to speak to a specialist for advice.

How do I apply for a Child Arrangement Order?

If you are looking to make an application to Court and require assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our team. We can help guide you through the process and can even help with mediation, which is required prior to making an application.

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