A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) is a court order which helps to ensure the welfare of children. It is one of three Section 8 Orders under the Children Act 1989. These are required in circumstances where separating or divorcing parents are unable to reach an agreement as to who their children will live with, arrangements about the time they spend with each parent or specific matters (for example, which school a child will attend, whether a child’s name can be changed). 

The CAO will set out the provisions, including where the children will reside and who will care for them. Example provisions could include:

  • Who the child(ren) will reside with and which parent will primarily be responsible for their care.
  • How often the child(ren) will spend time with each parent, and how these arrangements will be facilitated, for example, there may be a specified meeting place to drop off/ collect the children (or this may be done to/ from school), who will collect/ pick up children after time with each parent.
  • Where the children will spend their birthdays, how holidays will be divided, and where they will be for each religious holiday (for example).


Who can apply for a CAO?

Those who have an automatic right to apply include:

  1. a) Any parent, regardless of whether they have Parental Responsibility or not;
  2. b) A Step-parent;
  3. c) Any person with whom the child has lived for at least 3 years;
  4. d) A Local Authority foster parent;
  5. e) A relative of a child who has lived with them for a period of at least one year before the application is made;
  6. f) Anyone who has already applied for a CAO.

Other than these people, you must ask the Court for permission to apply for a CAO.


How and when to apply?

If agreements on matters involving the child/ children cannot be reached, an application can be made for a CAO. Before an application is made, mediation can be considered, which may be helpful for parties in reaching an agreement. Before any application is made, the parties must attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which is a meeting with a mediator to establish whether an agreement could be reached, rather than going to court.

The application is made by completing a Form C100 to be lodged at Court. On receiving the C100 form, the Court will inform the other party and set a date for the first hearing. This is known as the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA).


What are the next steps after the application is made?

  1. The Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will be asked by the Court to carry out safeguarding checks with the police and social services. Depending on the type of application, they may be asked to prepare a report advising on what is in the children’s best interests, having met with them, both parties and any other relevant third parties.
  2. The FHDRA will be held for 30 minutes, and the parties will be encouraged to come to an agreement. The court will not hear evidence from the parties but will deal with the directions for the future running of the case, including whether a Section 7 report will be required by CAFCASS involving talking to the children to ascertain their wishes and feelings. The court will detail the directions needed and list the matter for a Dispute Resolution Appointment.
  3. At the Dispute Resolution appointment, the Court will again encourage resolution, and if an agreement is reached, this will be incorporated into a Consent Order. If no agreement is reached, a final hearing will be listed.
  4. At the final hearing, both parties give evidence and will be able to challenge the parts of each other’s evidence by asking questions. The Judge will listen to both parties and come to a decision.
  5. The CAO will be issued by the court, and the arrangements which have been ordered will commence.


How does the Judge make their decision?

When the Judge decides whether to grant a CAO, it will use a checklist of welfare principles to make the decision.

The ‘welfare principle,’ as detailed within the Children Act 1989, is the Court’s priority when making any kind of Order and requires the Court to consider the interests of the children as primary importance.

The welfare requirements considered are:

  • The needs of the children;
  • The likely effect on the children of any change in their circumstances;
  • Any harm that the children have suffered or are at risk of suffering;
  • How capable each parent is of meeting the needs of the children;
  • The wishes and feelings of the children are considered in light of their ages and understanding;
  • The powers available to the Court under the Children Act 1989.


Family Lawyer London

At Marks Law, our Family Law Solicitors in Mayfair deal with all aspects of child arrangements.

For more information on how we can help you, please call us on 020 7123 4600 or email contact@marks-law.co.uk.