Child arrangements order
Child Arrangements  |  Child law  |  Family law

Deciphering Child Arrangements Orders

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Walker Family Law
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On the face of it, a child arrangements order is quite simple: it states with which parent(s) the child should live and, if with only one, what contact the child should have with the other parent.

But there can be much more to child arrangements orders.

Here we look a little more closely at what exactly a child arrangements order is, and what it can include, apart from simply setting out living and contact arrangements.

The definition of a child arrangements order

The starting point is the statutory definition in the Children Act 1989 for a child arrangements order.

The Act states:

“child arrangements order” means an order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following—

(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and

(b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person”

Note firstly that the definition is not limited to parents. A child arrangements order can also be made in relation to someone else, such as a grandparent.

Courts can order a child to live with multiple people, like splitting time between parents, without any restrictions.

Contact arrangements

Another point to note from the definition is the reference to spending time or otherwise having contact. What is the difference between the two?

‘Spend time’ means direct face-to-face contact between the child and the individual, including daytime or overnight visits.

‘Otherwise have contact’ refers to other types of indirect contact, such as video call, telephone, messaging, letters, email, and so on. It can also include such things as the sending of school reports and medical information by the parent with whom the child lives to the other parent.

Contact can also be supervised or unsupervised. Supervised contact will be ordered where the court is not sure that it would be safe for the child to spend time solely in the care of one person, so it orders that it should be supervised by a trustworthy person, such as a relative or the staff at a contact centre (see below).

Directions and conditions

A child arrangements order may also include directions and conditions.

These can include such things as where children should be ‘handed over’ at the start and end of direct contact; who may be present when the handover takes place; who should supervise the contact; and how the parties may communicate between themselves.

Conditions may include prohibiting alcohol or non-prescribed drugs for a set period before or during the child’s visitation.

Contact at a contact centre

The court may order contact at a child contact centre if it deems it beneficial for the child’s welfare.

In such cases the court order will state the name of the contact centre, who will provide the centre with a copy of the order, who will complete the contact centre referral form, and who will pay any costs charged by the centre. It will specify who brings the child to the centre and if they can be present during the contact session.

Centre staff may support or supervise the contact, aiding its smooth progress or observing and providing reports on the session.

Activity directions and conditions

Lastly, a child arrangements order may also contain ‘activity directions’ or ‘activity conditions’, requiring a person to take part in an activity that would, in the opinion of the court, “help to establish, maintain or improve the involvement in the life of the child concerned of that individual, or another individual who is a party to the proceedings.”

Activities may include such things as parenting classes, and programmes to address violent behaviour.

For more information about child arrangements, and the services we offer, see this page.