In the realm of family law, the welfare of children is of paramount importance. When parents separate or divorce, ensuring the well-being of their children becomes a critical concern. In the first instance, a Court would always expect that parents are able to resolve matters relating to the children between themselves and the ‘no order’ principle is the stance which the Court encourages to follow.

There are times where parents cannot agree on issues pertaining to the children.  In such cases, a legal framework is established through a Child Arrangement Order (CAO) to determine where and with whom the child will live, as well as the time they spend with each parent.

This article aims to shed light on the intricacies of Child Arrangement Orders in the UK, focusing on what they entail and what steps to take if an order is broken.

What is a Child Arrangement Order (CAO)?

A Child Arrangement Order is a legal document that outlines the arrangements for the residence, contact, and other aspects of a child’s upbringing when parents are unable to agree. Formerly known as Residence and Contact Orders, CAOs are issued by family courts and are legally binding. The primary goal is to ensure the child’s best interests are prioritised, taking into account factors such as age, emotional and educational needs, and any potential risks.

What types of Orders can be made with a CAO?

  1. Residence Order: A Residence Order stipulates with whom the child will live. This is a crucial aspect, as it determines the child’s primary residence and the responsibilities of the resident parent.
  2. Contact Order: A Contact Order specifies the time the non-resident parent spends with the child. This may include regular contact, holidays, and special occasions. The Court aims to strike a balance that allows both parents to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child however at the same time considering what is in the best interests for the child.
  3. Prohibited Steps Order: In certain cases, the court may impose restrictions on specific actions, such as taking the child  out of the jurisdiction, relocating with the child or changing their school, through a Prohibited Steps Order. This ensures that significant decisions regarding the child’s life are made jointly by both parents.
  4. Specific Issue Order: A Specific Issue Order is considered when there is an issue relating to the child which the parents cannot agree on. This could be changing the child’s surname or deciding whether or not the child should follow a particular religion or faith.

What do you do if a Child Arrangement Order is Breached?

Despite the legal binding nature of CAOs, situations may arise where one parent fails to comply with the agreed terms. In such cases, the following steps can be taken:

  1. Communication: Start by attempting open communication with the other parent. Misunderstandings or changes in circumstances may be addressed through dialogue, potentially resolving the issue amicably.
  2. Mediation: If communication proves challenging, seeking the assistance of a qualified mediator can facilitate discussions and help both parties find common ground. Mediation is often encouraged before resorting to legal action.
  3. Legal Action: In cases where informal resolutions are unsuccessful, legal action may be necessary. The affected parent can file an application with the family court to enforce the existing CAO or seek amendments to better suit the child’s current circumstances or for the Court to enforce the order against the non-compliant parent.

Child Arrangement Orders play a crucial role in safeguarding the interests of children in the aftermath of parental separation. By understanding the components of a CAO and knowing what steps to take if the order is breached, parents can navigate the complexities of family law with a focus on their child’s well-being.

In Reading, seeking the guidance of a reputable solicitor’s firm can provide invaluable support throughout this process, ensuring that the legal system effectively serves the best interests of the child and supports the parent seeking the Order.