Applying for contact (or access) with a child or for residence (custody) of a child
When parents separate, the non-resident parent, who is usually the Father, may disagree with the resident parent, who is usually the mother, about where and with whom a child will live – often referred to as “custody” or “residence” of the child. Alternatively they may disagree about how much time the child will spend with the parent they don’t live with, which is sometimes referred to as “access” or “contact” with a child. If you cannot reach agreement with the other parent then it might be necessary to apply to the family court for a children’s order.
What is a child arrangements order?
Child arrangements orders (CAO) regulate with whom a child is to live or spend time with. For example, if you and your partner have separated and you want your child to live with you, but cannot agree on this, then you will need to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order (live with) to decide your child’s living arrangements.
Alternatively, if you have agreed about who your child will live with but can’t agree the amount of time that your child will spend with the non-resident parent, you will need to apply to the court for a child arrangement order (spend time with) regulating contact arrangements.
A Child Arrangements Order regulating contact or access to a child requires the parent with whom the child lives to make the child available for contact with the other parent. The order will set out when the child is to spend time with them.
The court will only make a child arrangements order when it is in the best interests of the child – “the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration”, is spelt out in the Children Act. Child Arrangements Orders are not about parents’ rights, but are focussed on what is best for the child.
Who can apply for child arrangements orders?
Examples of those who can apply are as follows:
- The child’s parent, whether or not they have “parental responsibility”.
- The child’s step-parent or any person who has parental responsibility for the child under a parental responsibility agreement or order.
- Any person named as the person with whom the child is to live in a child arrangements order that is in force.
- Any person in a marriage or civil partnership (whether subsisting or not) in relation to whom the child has been treated as a child of the family.
- Any person who the child has lived with for three years. This needn’t be continuous but must not have begun more than five years before and ended three months before the application was made.
- Any person (who is not the child’s parent or guardian) who has parental responsibility for the child by being named in a child arrangements order as the person with whom the child is to spend time with (aka contact or access)
The following people can also apply for a child arrangements order regulating with whom a child is to live:
- A local authority foster parent who has had the child living with them for one year immediately before the application is made.
- A child’s relative who has had the child living with them for one year immediately before the application is made.
What about relatives and the extended family of the child?
A person who does not fall into any of the above categories must apply to the court for permission to make an application for a CAO. For example, relatives such as a grandparent or other extended family members who do not have the consent of all persons who have “parental responsibility” for the child, or do not satisfy the requisite periods of residence immediately before making an application, need to apply to the court for permission.
Can the court make orders for contact or access with my children?
Yes, the court can make orders for direct and/or indirect contact with you. Direct contact arrangements are when a child visits you or stays with you. This can we overnight or could be a visit for just a few hours. Visiting contact is usually ordered where the application concerns a baby or young child and so the court may order shorter periods of contact. If your application for a child arrangements order is for an older child, overnight contact is more likely to be ordered.
However, courts can be reluctant to make a CAO for older children, especially when this contradicts their wishes. The family court takes the view that generally a younger child will fall in with adult rules and orders, whereas an older child, such as a teenager, will “vote with their feet”.
Indirect contact is where the contact you have with a child is by letter, e-mail, telephone or for example, Skype or zoom.
Contact can be supervised or unsupervised, depending on the circumstances of your case and the concerns of the court.
Can the court make orders about where my child will live (aka residence or custody orders)?
Yes the court can make any of the following child arrangement orders:
- Naming one person, usually the child’s parent with whom the child is to live.
- Naming two people who live in the same household together, as persons with whom the child is to live. These CAO are usually made in favour of a child’s parent and step-parent.
- Naming two persons who live in different households, as persons with whom the child is to live. The CAO will specify the time that the child will live in the household of each parent – this is commonly known as “shared care” but the division of the child’s time between each household doesn’t have to be equal.
Does having a live with child arrangements order in my favour give me any additional rights?
Yes, if you are named as the parent with whom a child lives in a Child arrangements Order, you have the right to take the child abroad for up to one month without the consent of the other parent or the permission of the court.
If you are not named as the person with whom the child lives in a Child Arrangements Order then you don’t have this right.
When will a child arrangements order come to an end?
A child arrangements order specifying with whom a child has contact with will continue until they are 16 years old, or exceptionally 18 years old. The court could also decide to end the order earlier.
A child arrangements order that states with whom the child lives or when the child is to live with both parents, will last until they are 18 years old.
Any child arrangements order will end automatically if a child’s parents live together for a continuous period of more than six months after the order has been made.
How can Lincolns Family Law help me?
If you are in a dispute about contact (or access) with your child, or residence (custody) of your child and you want to talk to a family law solicitor about your options, then please get in touch. We offer a no obligation free enquiry if you just require a short chat, or alternatively you can call to arrange a fixed fee initial consultation, which will not be time limited, so you will have enough time to discuss your situation with a family solicitor in depth.