What the new Child Arrangements Orders mean for separating parents

If you are contemplating a divorce or separation from your partner or spouse, your first concern will usually be for your children. Decisions about where will they will live – and how much contact they will have with both parents – will be paramount. 

Recent changes to modernise the law mean that couples now have more power to make these decisions themselves and aims to ensure that both parents are involved in bringing up their children and can agree on who sees them, and when.

So exactly what is involved – and how can you achieve the best outcome for your family?

What are the changes to the law? 

New family laws introduced in April 2014 via the Children and Families Act were designed to encourage divorcing couples to be less confrontational, to avoid going to court where possible – and to put the child’s best interests first.

A key feature of the Act is the introduction of a Child Arrangements Programme which applies when a dispute arises concerning arrangements relating to children.

The programme promotes joint parental responsibility and consensus about where children would live – and how often they would see both parents. If parents are unable to reach an agreement outside of the courts, the programme seeks to resolve a dispute in order to avoid prolonged delays.

How do the changes differ to the previous system?

Prior to the introduction of Child Arrangements Orders, judges used to issue residence and contact orders ruling which parent the child would live with – and how much contact they would have with the other parent.

These residence and contact orders have been replaced with Child Arrangements Orders which encourage both parents to be involved in the decision-making process and to agree on what is best for their child.

Before thinking about a court application, both parents are required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) – a 45 minute meeting with a trained mediator to establish if mediation will be suitable rather than going straight to court.

What if the other party refuses to attend a MIAM? 

If the other party – referred to as the Respondent – refuses to turn up to the meeting a court can order them to attend and can adjourn proceedings until this requirement has been satisfied.

What issues should you consider during the decision-making process?

It is usual to try to keep children settled in the family home wherever possible to minimise disruption to their daily lives.

A constructive approach through the divorce or separation will lay the best foundations for the children to feel settled with the new family relationships. This is exactly why the approach taken by the Jones Myers team will work well for you. Our depth and breadth of experience – coupled with our sensitivity and professionalism – can help you to achieve the very best outcome for the whole family.

What happens after the meeting?

Following a MIAM, some couples may find mediation useful to help them agree on childcare arrangements. If mediation isn’t considered suitable, your case will go to court where a judge will rule on where your child should live.

Who can apply for Child Arrangements Orders?

Anyone with parental responsibility such as the child’s parent or guardian can apply for an order. Grandparents or other family members can apply with the courts permission.

If you have any concerns or queries about Child Arrangement Orders or any matter relating to children and divorce then please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail. You can follow us on Twitter at @helpwithdivorce

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