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Sensitive and professional advice to help you make the right child arrangements

Going through a separation or divorce can be a difficult process for the whole family, which can often leave any children in the relationship feeling sad, confused or worried.

At ORJ, we are here to guide you through each step, with the aim of helping you resolve matters amicably. This can include:

  • Help with creating a parenting plan with your partner
  • Assistance in locating a suitable mediation service
  • Drafting a consent order to create a legally-binding child arrangements order
  • Advice on how to resolve matters through the courts if you cannot agree 

Do I have to go through the courts to organise future child arrangements?

The simple answer is no.  The law states that the needs of any children must always be considered first during any relationship breakdown, but this does not mean that the matter must be dealt with through the legal system on every occasion.

If you and your partner can agree to arrangements amicably, and with the best interests of your children in mind, then there is no requirement to involve the courts. You do not need to complete any official paperwork, but you may want to create a parenting plan so that your joint wishes are recorded.

How can mediation help in resolving child arrangements?

At this emotional time, you may need some additional help in reaching an agreement that works for the whole family.  If appropriate, we can refer you to a mediation provider who would be able to offer assistance in seeking to reach an agreement on:

  • Where your children will live
  • How much time they will spend time with each parent
  • Any other types of contact that can take place, such as phone or video calls

Mediation can take place over a number of sessions and, at the end of these sessions, if successful, a document is prepared detailing your joint agreements.

Can we make our agreements legally binding?

We can help to draft a child arrangement order, based on any agreements that may be reached through mediation, for a court to approve your childcare wishes.  This will need to be signed by both parties and will make any agreements legally binding, helping to avoid any future issues.

What happens if we cannot agree?

The courts will always want to see evidence that you have tried mediation first, and made your best efforts to resolve matters in the interests of your children.

If you’ve tried everything and still cannot agree, then you will need to apply for a court order. You will then have to attend court for any hearings that may be required, which may be held virtually. This can feel both daunting and upsetting and at ORJ  we will support you at every stage – helping you prepare for any difficult questions and ensuring that your child’s wellbeing remains the primary focus.

The child’s mother, father or anyone with parental responsibility can apply for a court order, and other people, such as grandparents may also apply, but they will need to seek permission from the courts first.

On a successful outcome, a child arrangements order will then be granted. This may include specific issue orders around your child’s upbringing and their education.

How long does a child arrangements order last?

The order will expire when the child or children involved reach the age of 18. While in the context of the law, adulthood is reached at this point, the court is unlikely to grant an order past the age of 16, unless there are exceptional circumstances.    

What happens in the event of a breach of a child arrangements order?

Much like the initial mediation process, the first step should always be to discuss the matter with your ex-partner in a constructive way.  The breach may only be very minor or unintentional, such as a change in the time a child needs to be collected from school by the other party.  In these circumstances, parents are often able to find a solution that works for all the family, without additional legal expense…

You won’t need to go back to the courts to agree any amendments to the order, but it is advised to have these agreements in writing to protect both parties. 

If an initial discussion does not work, or you are struggling to speak to your ex-partner in person, then consider asking your solicitor to write to them, outlining their obligations under the order.

Serious or intentional breaches

If you feel that your ex-partner is refusing to abide by the terms of the child arrangements order, or seeking to make changes without your consent, then you can apply to the court for help in enforcing the order.

The court will consider all the facts to help establish if the breach is regular and intentional, as well as the ongoing needs of the children and their wishes.  At this stage, it may be necessary to conduct a hearing to establish the reasons for the breach and to assess and manage the risks of making a further order. 

An application for enforcement of the order must also be heard by the previously allocated judge, who may require further safeguarding checks from Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. 

If the court agrees that there has been a breach, without a valid reason, then the initial steps would be to consider further mediation between the parents, or a variation in the order that considers the new arrangements required.

However, there can be some more serious consequences for one or both parties, which, depending on the severity of the breach can include:

  • A contact enforcement order or suspended enforcement order 
  • A fine for the parent in breach
  • Compensation for financial loss paid to the other party
  • A short prison sentence for the parent in breach, although this is very rare

I’m concerned about my child’s welfare. What should I do?

In some particularly sensitive cases, where child welfare may be a concern or social services has been involved, then you may not be expected to attend any mediation sessions.

If you are the primary carer and fear the other party is a serious risk to your children then you may take the decision to stop contact although you should always seek legal advice prior to taking this step. We can assist with child arrangement disputes and even help with enforcement of a child arrangements order where one party isn’t complying with a court order.

Next steps…

We understand that this can be a stressful and difficult time. Our family law solicitors in Stafford, Telford and Birmingham and the surrounding areas can provide both emotional support and practical legal advice to help you in obtaining a child arrangements order.

We also offer a FREE 30-minute consultation to help understand your needs, with no obligation. Get in touch with us or call on: 01785 223440