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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
Following separation it is often difficult to make arrangements for the children to spend time with both parents and is often the biggest disagreement that continues for years following. What is always important to consider is what is best for the children.
If you are unable to make amicable arrangements between you, the first thing we would recommend is to obtain preliminary advice from a Solicitor in relation to the options available. It is likely that the first option would be to attend mediation together if suitable in the hope that an agreement can be reached. If mediation is unsuccessful, then you would need to instruct a Solicitor to attempt to negotiate an agreement. If this is still not successful then a Court application will be necessary.
There are several orders you can apply for in relation to children under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. The most common is a Child Arrangements Order; however you can also apply for a Specific Issue Order and a Prohibited Steps Order. So what do these Orders mean and what do they cover?
What is a child arrangements order?
A child arrangements order can cover who a child or children will live with and when they are to spend time with each parent. This can cover a weekly pattern for the children as well as holiday arrangements and also special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. It can also cover other forms of contact such as telephone, Skype, Facetime etc when you are not with the children.
What does it mean if I have an Order saying the children are to live with me?
This means that the children have their day-to-day home with you and for you to take care of their daily needs and routine. The other parent however, is still entitled to be involved in the important decisions for the children such as where they are to attend school. They are also entitled to be kept informed about the children especially in relation to their education and health.
It also means that you are able to take the children on holiday in England, Wales or abroad for up to four weeks at a time without the prior permission of anyone else with parental responsibility of the children. It is still advisable though, to inform them of where you are going and for how long.
What happens if I cannot see the children according to the Order?
The Court appreciates that there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to children arrangements. An Order can be changed by mutual agreement of the parties to the Order. This does mean that for example if you and the children have been invited to a party on a weekend that you would not normally see the children you can discuss this with the person they live with to ask if you can alter the pattern so that the children can attend the party. Similarly, if you are unable to see the children on a particular day that you are supposed to, according to the Order you can let the other person know and ask for an alternative day or miss that day all together.
It is also important to remember that often children are invited to birthday parties etc on weekends and during the holidays and it may be that an event falls on a day you are due to see the children. It is important to be flexible and discuss any invitations the children receive together so that an arrangement can be made for the children to attend.
How long does a Child Arrangements Order last for?
A Child Arrangements Order will last until the children reach the age of 16 or a further order of the Court. This does not mean that it cannot be varied by the parties to the Order by mutual agreement. It is normal for child arrangements to change as children get older and their needs change. It is difficult for an Order that was made when the children were toddlers to still be relevant when the children are teenagers. Amendments can be made to the Order between you as and when it is necessary.
If one parent would like to change arrangements following an Order but the other parent is not in agreement then you would be required to attempt mediation, negotiation through solicitors and if this isn’t successful you can apply to the Court again. Obviously, the Court would hope that following a Child Arrangements Order being made any changes that are necessary can be made without further involvement of the Court.
What is a Specific Issue Order?
This order does exactly what it says on the tin, it is an order in relation to a specific issue in relation to children that is not covered by a Child Arrangements Order. For example, an Order can be applied for to ask the Court to decide whether a child’s surname should be changed or where a child is to attend school.
What is a Prohibited Steps Order?
This order should be applied for if you require an order preventing someone to do something in relation to the children. For example, this order can be applied for to prevent a person from removing a child from school or prevent someone from moving out of the country with a child.
If you are experiencing any issues in relation to your children please do contact one of our family law experts for further advice.