Cases involving children are sometimes straightforward – perhaps the only issue is Christmas contact. Or they can be very complex.
There might, for example, be allegations of parental alienation, drug misuse or even child abuse.
Whatever the issues, these cases are always important.
These were recently renamed and are now known as, respectively,
live with Child Arrangement Orders and
spend time with Child Arrangement Orders (CAOs for short).
As the names suggest, these orders set out with whom the child lives and when the child sees the other parent. Sometimes these orders come with conditions, for example that the person looking after the child should not drink alcohol whilst the child is in their care.
If a person has Parental Responsibility (PR) for a child then he or she has all the rights, duties, responsibilities, powers and authority that a parent has.
In practice, subject to some exceptions, a person who has Parental Responsibility for a child is entitled to be involved in making important decisions about the child’s upbringing: where they live, which school they attend, what medical treatment they receives, etc.
A child’s mother will have PR, as will a father who is married to the mother, or named on the child’s birth certificate. Anyone who has a
live with Child Arrangement Order in their favour will also have PR for that child. A step-parent may apply to have PR for their step-child.
When resolving a dispute which relates to a child’s upbringing the court must consider the following factors – often referred to as the welfare checklist:
It is important to note that the court will have the child’s welfare as its paramount consideration. Also, the court will proceed on the basis that the child’s interests will be furthered by having both parents involved in the child’s life.
The modern approach is to help parents come to an agreement without going to court at all.
In practice this means that, before most applications can proceed, the parents will need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
This won’t be appropriate in every case though. MIAMs are not required if there are allegations of domestic abuse, or if the application is urgent and there are concerns about safety.
For more information about MIAMs visit the Family Mediation Council
If mediation doesn’t work, then the case will proceed to court. Before the first hearing an officer of the Children and Family Court Advice and Support Service (Cafcass) will contact all the parties and check their police and social services records. That officer, or a colleague, will see the parties at court and try to broker an agreement.
For more information visit Cafcass
If no agreement is possible then the court will list the case for a hearing. Sometimes Cafcass will be directed to prepare a report, particularly if there are concerns about the child’s safety or the ability of the parents to meet her needs.
Before the final hearing the parties will have a chance to prepare statements setting out the points they think have a bearing on the case.
At the hearing they may give evidence – that is, go into the witness box and answer questions from their own lawyer (if they have one) and the other party’s lawyer (ditto). The court will then make its decision.
To apply for an order download the C100 application form
If one parent accuses the other of domestic abuse or abusive parenting the court may then need to decide whether or not the allegations are true.
Sometimes this will be done as part of the final hearing, sometimes a separate hearing will be listed to deal with these specific allegations. This is often referred to as a
The court expects its orders to be obeyed. If a person fails to comply with a
spend time with order (formerly a
contact order) without reasonable excuse, then he or she may be required to undertake unpaid work or pay compensation to the person who has suffered because of the breach.
To apply to enforce an order download the C79 application form.