What are Child Arrangement Orders?

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Disputes may arise between people regarding aspects of a child’s welfare, especially in the events of a divorce or separation. These may range from matters relating to whom the child lives and spends time with, as well as matters relating to medical intervention, religion and identity.

What is a Child Arrangements Order?

A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) is a legal agreement regulating arrangements for a child in relation to any of the following:

  • Who the child lives with, spends time with or otherwise has contact with
  • When the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person

It essentially sets out where the children live and when and how they spend time with the other parent. This is commonly known as custody but referred to in law as ‘residence and contact’. Contact refers to the time a child spends with an adult. There are several ways for contact to take place, including:

  • Direct contact between the child and the person named in the order
  • Indirect contact through calls or letters
  • Supervised contact
  • Overnight staying contact

In exceptional circumstances, it is possible for the court to make a no contact order where it is not in the best interests of the child to see the individual. Each CAO is decided on the circumstances of the individual and if it is in the best interests of the particular child.

What is included in a CAO?

  • A CAO may specify with whom a child is to live with, but not specifically where.
  • A CAO may provide for the child to live with one parent, or it may provide for the child to share their time between both parents.
  • A CAO will specify in detail how the child’s time is to be divided
  • Specify the conditions under which the child will spend time with the other parent. These may include the frequency, time and location of the visits (after school, at certain weekends or on a monthly schedule)
  • What kind of contact the child will have outside of these visits (phone calls, texts, emails or social media interactions)

Who can apply for a CAO?

Section 8 of the Children Act allows only parents or guardians deemed to have parental responsibility to apply for a CAO without first seeking the court’s permission. These include:

  • A Parent, guardian or special guardian
  • Anyone who currently has parental responsibility of the child
  • A person in a marriage or civil partnership where the child is a child of the family (even if they are not a biological parent)
  • Anyone who has a residence order in relation to the child, or who has lived with the child for three years or longer-term.

Essentially, anyone who has parental responsibility for the child can apply, despite not being a biological parent. Anyone else who wants to seek a CAO can only do so if they apply to the court for permission first.


Other types of Child Arrangement Orders

There are two further types of CAO; a specific issues order and a prohibited steps order.

Specific Issue Order

This type of order determines specific matters relating to the upbringing of the child, for example where they attend school, religious upbringing, changing their surname or removal from jurisdiction.  A specific issue order may be necessary if the parents disagree on issues unrelated to contact.

Prohibited Steps Order

This type of order limits a parent/guardian from taking a certain step, for example, a prohibited steps order may prevent a parent from taking a child out of the country, or stopping them from spending time with a specific relative/ new partner.

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