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Child Arrangements  |  Child law  |  Family law

The Shelf Life of Child Arrangement Orders

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Walker Family Law
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When separated parents are unable to agree arrangements for their children the court may make a child arrangements order. But how long does a child arrangement order last in the UK?

A child arrangements order is 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.

Essentially, there are two elements to child arrangements orders: the ‘live with’ element, stating with whom the child should live (which could be with more than one person, for example where the child is to share their time between the parents), and the ‘contact’ element, stating what contact the child should have with anyone else.

A typical child arrangements order might state residence with one parent and visitation with the other..

The difference between the elements answers the question: how long does a child arrangement order last in the UK?

How long does a child arrangement order last in the UK?

A child arrangements order ends when the child turns eighteen, as they’re no longer considered a child.

However, the contact element of a child arrangements order will cease when the child reaches the age of sixteen, unless the court states that it should last longer, which it will only do if there are exceptional circumstances.

Thus, the law is essentially saying that when a child reaches the age of sixteen it will be up to them (save where there are exceptional circumstances) to decide what contact they should have with the parent with whom they don’t live.

Meanwhile, the ‘live with’ element of a child arrangements order will continue until the child reaches the age of eighteen. However, the court may not make even a ‘live with’ child arrangements order in relation to a child who has reached the age of sixteen unless it is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional, and would in any event be very reluctant to enforce a ‘live with’ order after the child has reached sixteen, save in exceptional circumstances.

A recent High Court case provides an insight into how all of this may work in practice.

Exceptional circumstances

The case concerned a father’s contact with his son, who was then aged fifteen.

The father had contact with the child, but was it in the child’s best interests for the contact to continue?

The mother argued that no order for contact should be made, based on the child’s wishes and feelings, whilst the father contended that it was in the child’s best interests that an order be made to last until he was aged eighteen.

For the contact order to extend beyond the child’s sixteenth birthday, exceptional circumstances needed to be demonstrated to the court.

The judge hearing the case referred to guidance which appeared to link the making of an order to run after the child’s sixteenth birthday to where the child has cognitive or learning difficulties, and stated that examples were to be found in previous cases where the child was particularly immature and needed that protection.

The father argued exceptional circumstances, alleging long-term manipulation by the mother, leading the child to refuse contact.

The judge acknowledged the mother’s manipulation but prioritized the child’s wishes, deeming it best for his well-being. She also could not envisage how an order could be made to work from the age of sixteen onwards, saying that it would be futile to force him to continue to see his father against his wishes.

Accordingly, she made an order that the contact should only continue until the boy’s sixteenth birthday.

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