A Child Arrangements Order is an order that sets out arrangements for a child – that is most commonly where they live (previously called residence or custody) or who they spend time with (previously called contact or access).
Legal aid is only available to people applying for a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) in limited circumstances (see https://www.bholegal.co.uk/legal-aid-for-family-law-matters/ ) and not everyone can afford to pay a solicitor to represent them. So what do you do in those circumstances?
This article is meant to give you a brief overview of how to make the application and what to be aware of in the process, when you are representing yourself. It is not meant to replace legal advice and it cannot take into account each and every different circumstance that you may find yourself in.
You will need to consider mediation before applying to court. Mediation can help you to reach an agreement with your child’s other parent and avoid court. We have a mediator at our firm: https://www.bholegal.co.uk/mediation/
You should attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before you make your application to court. There is information here about these meetings and your application form will require you to set out the outcome of that meeting: https://www.nfm.org.uk/about-family-mediation-services/what-is-a-miam/
If mediation is not appropriate, or it does not result in an agreement, and you want to make an application to court you need to complete certain forms. For a CAO these forms are (at the time of writing) a C100 that sets out the details of the parties and the order you seek; and, in certain circumstances, a C1A (if you are alleging that the child has come to harm or there is domestic abuse that is relevant to your application) or a C8 (if you wish to ask the court to keep your address confidential).
This link provides all the forms you might need:
Once you have completed the form you send it to the court that is local to where the child lives. You can do this in person, by email or post. It is probably safest to call the court and ask them how they would prefer you to send your application.
The court will issue your application and send it back to you with a date for an initial hearing – usually no less than four weeks later, sometimes considerably longer. The court may give you a list of things to do (called directions) in advance of the first hearing.
The court will decide which level of court your matter should be heard by. In most cases the court will list your matter either in front of Magistrates or in front of a District Judge. More serious cases may be referred to more senior judges.
You must ensure the child’s other parent receives a copy of your application and the notice of the hearing date and any directions made by the court.
There is a fee for making this application (£215 currently) but sometimes that can be waived. This link explains how to get help with court fees:
What happens next?
An organisation called CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) undertakes safeguarding enquiries in advance of the first hearing. This would usually involve undertaking checks with the police and the LA to ensure there are no known safety or welfare concerns about your children. They will also speak to you and the child’s other parent and send the court a letter setting out their conclusions three days before the hearing.
This link gives you more information about CAFCASS:
At the FHDRA (First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment) the CAFCASS officer may speak to you and the other parent to see if an agreement can be reached as long as there are no safeguarding concerns. It may be possible to end proceedings at this stage with a formal agreement (or consent order) between you.
If agreement is not possible then the Judge (or Magistrates) will consider what steps are required. S/he/they may:
- Order you and the other parent to a mediation assessment meeting or ask CAFCASS to help you reach agreement;
- Order a ‘fact finding’ hearing is there are disputed allegations that would affect the outcome of the case (such as allegations of domestic abuse or other safeguarding issues);
- If domestic abuse is accepted the court may order you or the other party to attend a domestic abuse perpetrator programme;
- Ask CAFCASS to undertake work with the family and provide a report.
In all of these circumstances you would then need to return to court for a further hearing.
Family courts and lawyers have a tendency to use all sorts of terminology. This is a really good website to help you navigate what all those words and phrases mean:
You could also read a book written by a family barrister, Lucy Reed, for people representing themselves:
Another helpful book is:
What can we do to help?
We have flexible fee arrangements for clients in these circumstances. The two main services we offer are to help with forms in a one-off appointment or to assist with representation at hearings for an agreed fixed fee.
If you wish to discuss these arrangements, please contact us on 01235 425500.
Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP