Child arrangement orders (custody/access, residence/contact)
These used to be called ‘custody and access’ before being changed to ‘residence and contact’. Now it’s child arrangement orders (CAOs) which define how much time a child spends with each parent.
The ‘no order’ principle in the Children Act still applies. This means that the court won’t make an order regarding your children unless it’s better for the children than not making an order. If you can agree between yourselves the arrangements for your children there is no need for the court to be involved at all. You don’t need a solicitor, or to tell anyone else what you’ve agreed for your children, although it’s always best if you can make a parenting plan together. Even if you haven’t actually agreed, verbally or in writing, so long as your ex doesn’t make an application to the court, there’s no need to do anything.
If you’re not happy with the arrangements for your children and can’t reach agreement with your ex, the first step is to make an appointment for a MIAM.
If you can’t reach agreement in mediation, ask the mediator to sign your C100 form which you can download from the government website. You can then complete the form and make your application to the court.
The court will send you and your ex a notice with the first hearing date. Before this hearing you will have a telephone call with a Family Court Advisor from Cafcass who will write a ‘safeguarding letter’ to the court before the hearing.
The first hearing will be a ‘directions hearing’ which means the court will decide how your case is to proceed: usually whether there needs to be a fact finding hearing, a report from Cafcass or social services, statements from the parties, or medical or other reports. No arrangements for your children will be decided or changed at this hearing unless you and your ex agree to it: there will usually be someone from Cafcass at court who may help you to come to an agreement before you go into court.