Article written by Mandeep Clair, Solicitor, Family department
When parents cannot decide arrangements for their child(ren) in the wake of a separation, the Court can issue a Child Arrangements Order to clarify the child’s living arrangements.
A Child Arrangements Order is a court order which stipulates the living arrangements for a child which can cover with whom the child is to live, which in some cases could be a shared care arrangement and when the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with the other parent or possibly a third party, and for what duration. Any breach of the order would be in contempt of court and could result in penalties such as a fine, enforcement order, and in extreme circumstances, imprisonment.
So, what can you do if your ex-partner is not complying?
If you are experiencing difficulties with a Child Arrangements Order, we would advise you to make a note of any breaches, both minor and major. This would give you a clear picture of what is going on, the difficulties faced and provide a diary of events where your ex-partner is not adhering to the court order.
1 – Communicate with your ex-partner
Firstly, we would suggest that you attempt to communicate with the other party. It may be possible to reach an agreement directly by discussion, helped by family law solicitors and thereby avoiding further court appearances which can be stressful, timely and expensive – hopefully, something you and your ex-partner are keen to avoid.
2 – Mediation
There are several local mediation services available. We can provide advice on this including how the mediation is likely to work and obtain estimated costs for mediation. We can also support you by being on hand to discuss issues that arise from the mediation or at a meeting while the mediation is ongoing. We can also assist in terms of formalising any agreement reached following the mediation.
3 – Apply for a Court order
If you have tried the first two options and mediation is refused, does not work, or is not considered appropriate, you could go down the ‘formal route’ via the Family Court, to enforce the original order. A family lawyer can advise you here. The court office will subsequently fix a date for a first hearing. At this hearing, the Judge may sit with a CAFCASS officer to try to help the parties to reach an agreement themselves before proceeding further with the court process.
What will the Court consider when deciding to enforce a Child Arrangements Order?
Upon receipt of the application to enforce a Child Arrangements Order, the Court will consider:
- The reasons for any non-compliance
- Whether it is necessary to conduct a hearing to establish the facts for non-compliance
- The wishes of the child and any risks involved
- The welfare checklist
- Whether an enforcement order is appropriate
- Whether a separated parents information programme is suitable
Can I change a Court Order?
The simple answer is yes – if circumstances change once a Child Arrangements Order has been made and an agreement cannot be reached between the parties. To do so, you will need to complete a C100 application form and explain the rationale for the change. The court will only vary a Child Arrangements Order with the paramount consideration being the best interest of the child.
It is possible for Child Arrangement Orders to be appealed and subsequently overturned. We would strongly advise you contact a solicitor for bespoke advice on your circumstances first.
If you wish to discuss Child Arrangement Orders or for information on a family law matter, please feel free to email me or contact the department on 0208 305 4235.