Relationship breakdown is always difficult for those involved but with children often hit the hardest. In a number of scenarios, parents will agree sensible arrangements upon separation to include where children will live and what time they will spend with the other parent. For some, however, arrangements for children can be the most contentious issue between them.
At DTM Legal, we always encourage parents to attempt discussions with the other parent in the first instance. Where it isn’t possible to reach agreement between the parents, before applying to the family court, you must first attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is designed to establish whether the parties might be able to reach an agreement through a process of mediation, rather than going to court. If this option is tried but is unsuccessful, you can then seek an Order in the family Court. Applications to the court should be used very much as a last resort but rest assured, we at DTM Legal have the expertise to navigate you through the court process if required.
Types of Orders
The most common Order applied for would be a Child Arrangements Order which sets out who a child lives with and how much time they spend with the other parent including the nature of that time.
Other Orders that can be applied for are:
- Prohibited Steps Order which can prevent a parent from doing something. An example may be to prevent the removal of a child from the care of a parent or third party or to another country.
- Specific Issue Order which requires a parent someone to do something. Common applications might include changing a child’s name, selecting a school or permitting them to relocate with a child either abroad or to another area of the country
- Parental Responsibility Order which provides certain legal rights to a party or potentially restricts those rights
The Court process and Arrangements for Children
The Court process involves several stages. It is important to get specialist advice from the outset to ensure you steer through the process successfully and secure the best possible arrangements for you and your children. When the Court considers an application made under the Children Act 1989 the main consideration of the Court is the welfare of the child involved and will consider the welfare checklist which includes the following:
- A child’s wishes and feelings in light of their age and understanding.
- Their physical, emotional and educational needs.
- The effect on the child(ren) of any change in circumstances.
- their age, sex, background and any other characteristics that the Court considers to be relevant.
- Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
- How capable each parent is and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant are of meeting the child’s needs.
Any proceedings will initially be listed for a First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment. At the first hearing, the court will be looking to establish what the issues are in dispute and what steps need to be taken before a decision is taken. The court will try to encourage the parties to resolve the matter by agreement.
If agreement is reached at that first hearing, the Court will be able to make an Order at that first hearing reflecting that agreement and that will be the end of the case.
If not, there will be further stages to the application which can include filing of evidence, usually by way of statements and/or the preparation of a report by an officer of CAFCASS who will make recommendations to help the Court make a decision. The Court can also give directions for further evidence to include additional information from health professionals and the Police where relevant.
Further interim court hearings may also be required. This could include a Fact-Finding Hearing or a Dispute Resolution or Review Hearing. The Court will then consider the listing of a Final Hearing at which the court will consider all the evidence before making a decision.
A significant amount of information will usually have been collected before a final hearing and both parents will usually give oral evidence along with the allocated CAFCASS officer and potentially any other experts involved. The Court will then make the final decision.
Even if agreement isn’t reached at the beginning of the case, this does not mean that the matter has to progress to a final hearing. Parties can reach an agreement at any stage during the proceedings in order to bring the case to a conclusion and the Court would again be actively encouraging them to do so.
How long does it take to get a child arrangements order?
The length of time Court proceedings can take depends on several factors, for example whether the parties are willing to reach an agreement, the complexity of the case, whether there are any safeguarding issues but also the evidence needed and the court availability.
If arrangements can be agreed either following negotiations or through mediation, this will speed the process up significantly.
If a case does progress to the court, however, it is not unusual for it to take around three months from when application forms are submitted to when the first hearing takes place. What intervals are then needed between hearings will vary from Court to Court and depending on the nature of the evidence required so some cases can take much longer than others.
Solicitors that specialise in Family Law
At DTM Legal, we can provide carefully tailored advice and explain the steps you need to take, including applying to the Court where necessary. If you have a concern regarding Child Arrangements then don’t hesitate to speak to a legal expert. Our Family Law team provide a free initial 30-minute consultation to help discover your needs and provide guidance on the options available to you. Speak to Helen Davies by calling on 01244 568635 or 0151 3210000 or email email@example.com.