Child Arrangement Agreements #SolicitorChat with The Law Society.

When parents separate, it’s important to make sure child arrangements are in place which benefit the children and work best for them. But what is a Child Arrangement Order? And what impact does the Coronavirus pandemic have on Child Arrangement Orders? We discussed this and more in #SolicitorChat.

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What is a Child Arrangement Order and what does it put into place?

A child arrangements order is an order made by the Court (which can either be an agreed order, or the decision of a court) that sets out what the “arrangements” for the child or children are such as whether the child/children live  with one parent, or both and/or how much time they spend with the other parent.  It is possible to have an order that the child/children live with both parents but that they may not spend equal time in both homes.  A child arrangements order can also deal with specific things eg if there is a dispute about schooling, to stop one parent from taking certain steps and also the order can stipulate other conditions, for example, that contact should be supervised or that alcohol should not be consumed when a child is with a parent.

What will the court take into consideration when an application for a Child Arrangement Order is made?

The main  consideration is the best interests of the child/children. The child will be the focus of the proceedings and the Court must consider the welfare checklist when considering any order concerning a child and this takes into account all the circumstances of that family.

What should parents take into consideration when making a Child Arrangement Order?

Parents should always consider the child/children first, what is best for them, be child-focussed, and what is practical moving forwards and what would meet the needs of the children. Unless a child would be at harm the Court will very likely consider it to be in the bests interests of the child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.   The court may take the view that there should be an order providing for a child/children to “live with” both parents even if the time that they spend with each parent is not equal time.  The court might take the view that is the best way to avoid one parent being alienated or side-lined and sends a strong message to the parent who has main care of the importance of both parents in the child/children’s lives.  If the relationship between the parents is high conflict it may be appropriate to consider ways in which contact between the parents can be minimised, how handovers take place, as well as ensuring the order is clear to prevent future disputes over small issues, this may include considering holidays, birthdays, Christmases and other special occasions.   An order can be general in its terms so that there is some flexibility or can be rigid to avoid disputes   Remember that it is not essential to have a child arrangements order if there is a good deal of agreement between separated parents and they can agree arrangement between themselves.  The Court works on the “no order” principle so it will not make an order unless an order needs to be made. The court take the view that the parents know their children best and the court does not need to interfere unless absolutely necessary.

How can a solicitor help parents making a Child Arrangement Order?

A solicitor can help you consider all options, ensure the order is specific or flexible enough and explain the consequences of a Child Arrangements Order. It is important that a parent fully understands the implications of an order prior to it being made and/or agreed to. For example, this could be in relation to who is allowed to take the child on holiday (which is affected by a “live with” order).

What impact does the Coronavirus have on Child Arrangement Orders? What guidance would you give to parents during this time?

PHE have been clear that children can move between homes if their parents are separated. However, common sense must be applied and if a child is too unwell to move or if one of the family units is self isolating, we would suggest that this is discussed between parents as soon as possible and alternative contact plans put in place. Whilst it is a difficult time, any Child Arrangements Order remains in force and should be complied with as much as possible.  If there are issues arising following a breach of a child arrangements order because of the lockdown or illness,  a court would take into account the fact that a parent has acted unreasonably to thwart contact during this period.    Other contact options are to be encouraged during this time if the child/children need to remain in one or other home during this time, telephone contact, Skype or Facetime etc

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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