What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is an order that regulates with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person. Each Child Arrangements Order is decided on the circumstances of the individual family and on what is in the best interests of that particular child. This means that there is no such thing as a ‘usual’ arrangement. Child Arrangements Orders are governed by section 8 of the Children Act 1989.
What if the parties agree to depart from the arrangements set out in the Child Arrangements Order?
If all parties to the Child Arrangements Order are in agreement about any changes, it would not be a breach of the order to depart from its terms. However, the parties must be aware that these changes are not legally binding unless the order is formally varied by the Court. This means that if the informal agreement comes to an end at any point, the parties will have to revert back to the original order.
Can a Child Arrangements Order be varied?
The Court are aware that family circumstances change over time and that children’s needs change as they get older, therefore it is possible to apply for variation of an existing Child Arrangements Order. The person making the application will have to demonstrate that their proposed changes are in the child’s best interests.
For more information on applying to vary a Child Arrangements Order, please see our How to Guide on Variation and discharge of an order for contact or residence.
What happens if a party breaches the Child Arrangements Order?
The Court does not monitor Child Arrangements Orders once the final order has been granted and therefore would not be aware of any breaches unless a formal application for enforcement is made. The Court will only make an Enforcement Order if it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a person has failed to comply with the order. The Court will not make an Enforcement Order if it is satisfied that the person had a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with the Order. This is in accordance with section 11J of the Children Act 1989. When making an Enforcement Order, the Court can sanction the person with a warning, fine, community service, or a prison sentence.
For more information on applying for enforcement, please see our How to Guide Enforcement of an Order for contact or residence
Change of a child’s surname or removal from the jurisdiction where a Child Arrangements Order is in force
When a Child Arrangements Order is in force, the person whom the child is to live with is automatically permitted to remove the child out of England and Wales for up to one month without the consent of the other party (section 13(2) Children Act 1989). Some orders may put specific conditions on this, such as having to give a certain amount of notice to the other party or having to give them specific details about the holiday. The person who the child spends time with or has contact with does not get the same right to take the child out of the country. This means they will need to get consent from the other party or permission from the Court.
The order will also state that neither party can allow the child to be know by a new surname unless they have the consent of everyone with parental responsibility or leave of the Court. This is in accordance with section 13(1) of the Children Act 1989.
How long is a Child Arrangements Order in force for?
The contact arrangements set out in a Child Arrangements Order remain legally binding until the child reaches the age of 16 unless the order specifically states otherwise. This is in accordance with section 91(10) of the Children Act 1989. After this point it will be up to the child to decide how much contact they would like to have with the parent they do not live with.
The ‘live with’ element of a Child Arrangements Order remains legally binding until the child reaches the age of 18, however the Court are very reluctant to enforce such orders beyond the age of 16 unless there are exceptional circumstances.