Hello Child Arrangements Orders: goodbye to child residence and child custody - Family Law Partners

Hello Child Arrangements Orders: goodbye to child residence and child custody

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As of today new legislation has been introduced providing for a number of changes which seek to ‘modernise’ family law.

The new changes are being introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014. So, what will this mean for those who may need the assistance of the family court in the future?

The most significant changes are:-

Before even contemplating a court application attendance at a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) will now be compulsory for the person wishing to make such an application. The other party (the Respondent) is now also expected to attend. If a Respondent has refused to attend a MIAM the Court can order that they do so and can adjourn proceedings until this requirement has been satisfied.

A MIAM is a meeting with a trained mediator to see whether mediation will be suitable for the parties before they go to court. Many couples find mediation useful to help them agree on the arrangements for their children particularly where there is a real desire to avoid court proceedings.

There will no longer be ‘Contact’ (previously known as Access) or ‘Residence’ (often referred to as child custody) orders in proceedings regarding children. Instead these orders are replaced by a Child Arrangements Order. This type of order will regulate arrangements relating to any of the following:-

  • 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”

The rationale behind the new order is “to move away from loaded terms such as residence and contact which have themselves become a source of contention between parents, to bring greater focus on practical issues of the day to day care of the child.” [Family Justice Review]. In my mind, the public perception is still to think of ‘child custody’ and this is what many clients will ask about when first contacting us.

It seems that the intention behind the reform is to ensure that both parents are involved in the upbringing of their children and agree on the time that they spend with each parent. They will be encouraged to ‘agree’ arrangements rather than a Judge imposing an order upon them.

I certainly welcome the compulsory mediation assessment as I believe it will promote a more trusting relationship between parents and ensure they focus on the child’s best interests. It goes without saying that it is much better for a child if his or her parents can agree things together and not use their child as a tool with which to punish the other.

I am not so confident that a Child Arrangements Order will do all that is envisaged. On the face of it it appears that it is just different label. A Child Arrangements order is still likely to state with whom a child is to live (akin to residence and child custody) and with whom the child is to spend time (akin to contact and access). This doesn’t seem to me to be any sort of real progress and I have concerns that parents may still view themselves as winners and losers in some cases.

4 responses on “Hello Child Arrangements Orders: goodbye to child residence and child custody

  1. I have a known donor that I allowed to live with me for a year. After I told him he wasn?t allowed to live with me anymore he threatened to battle for my kids that I raised by myself for 5 years alone. He asked for arrangements through a lawyer to have visitation rights. I don?t feel comfortable leaving my children with him. Is there a way to fight this and stop visitation?

    1. Dear Alex, thank you for your comment. I note that you refer to the children’s father being a ‘donor’ which raises other legal issues that you should get independent legal advice on from a family law specialist.

  2. I currently have a an agreement with my ex husband regard child care arrangement for our 2 daughters. As part of this agreement I had to make a complete change to my working pattern as he was unprepared to do so! This plan was trialled for 10 weeks before I formally submitted an application for a flexible working plan with my employer. At this point my ex partner was in agreement and was aware that I would be tied into this agreement for 12 months. Since moving in with his current partner, he has sort on several occasions to change the arrangements as this no longer suits him and is threatening to remove some of the contact, which would leave me in a position of being unable to attend work! We have attended mediation, initially this was done jointly then was done separately as I found it too intimidating to be in the same room as him. Is a court order to enforce that the current arrangements remain in place a viable option?

    1. Dear Teressa, thank you for getting in touch. We are unable to provide advice in relation to specific cases and would recommend that you seek advice from a Resolution lawyer as to the options available to you in the first instance before embarking on court proceedings. Court proceedings should be last resort and there are other options available such as hybrid mediation [link] that could be considered if you find it too difficult being in the same room as your former husband. What I can say is that the court can make orders in relation to the child arrangements but they cannot force your former husband to ‘want’ to care for or spend time with the children. We would strongly recommend looking at alternative ways of resolving these issues with your former husband such as hybrid mediation or with support from a family consultant. https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/family-consultants-and-mediation/

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