Since 22 April 2014, “Child Arrangements Orders” have replaced “Residence” and “Contact” Orders in relation to private law children proceedings determining with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.
(a) With whom a child is to live: Sometimes, residence may be shared equally between the parents, but more often a child will reside with one parent and have contact with the other. That contact may be quite extensive and is likely to include overnight stays and holiday periods unless the facts of the particular case make this inappropriate. The Court may be prepared to make Orders that a child resides with both parents even if the child spends unequal amounts of time with each parent. This is increasingly the way in which Courts deal with cases where children are spending fairly substantial amounts of time with each parent, as the Court is anxious not to make one parent feel that his or her status is inferior to that of the other.
Where there is a Child Arrangements Order in force which provides for with whom the child is to live and/or when the child is to live with any person, no person may cause the child to be known by a new surname or remove the child from the United Kingdom without either the written consent of every person who has parental responsibility for the child, or permission from the Court. However, a person in whose favour an Order is made that a child is to live with him or her can take the child out of the jurisdiction for less than one month without having to obtain the consent of any other person with parental responsibility and without needing to obtain permission from the Court. It is also important to be aware that it is a criminal offence for a parent to take a child out of the United Kingdom without either the consent of any other person who has parental responsibility, or alternatively the permission of the Court, but if an Order has been made that a child live with a person, then the person with the benefit of such an Order will not commit this offence if he or she removes the child for a period of less than one month.
(b) Arrangements for a child to have contact with the “non-residential” parent: This type of Order determines the details of the contact that a child will have with the parent with whom he or she does not reside. In exceptional circumstances, contact may be restricted to supervised contact, or visiting contact for a few hours, for example. Again, every contact dispute will be resolved by the Court with the child’s welfare as the first concern.
In certain circumstances, the Court may make Orders relating to contact by letter or telephone.
Specific Issue and Prohibited Steps: These are less common Orders than those relating to with whom a child lives and for how long, or with whom they have contact and for how long, but are available in order to require a person to take some particular step in relation to a child, or to resolve a particular dispute other than parental responsibility, residence or contact (a Specific Issue Order), or to forbid a person from taking a particular action in respect of a child (a Prohibited Steps Order).
The detail above relates to Private Law issues arising between parents and step-parents of children. They do not relate to Public Law Child Care proceedings involving Social Services and other parties. Entirely different provisions relate to such matters, and will be discussed separately if they arise.
The Essex Family Courts have issued guidelines which give information as to the sort of things a Court will be looking for in any Court application relating to the arrangements for children. A copy of this PDF can be downloaded by clicking here.