A Child Arrangements Order is a legal order where the court decides either where a child will live or who a child can spend time with and for how long.  We’ll be talking about the first kind, which establishes who the child will live with.  These used to be called Residence Orders.

The person named in a Child Arrangements Order shares parental responsibility for the child with the parents, and can make most important decisions on behalf of the child without needing the permission of the parents.  It lasts until the child turns 18 unless the court states otherwise.

In most cases you have to attend a mediation, information and assessment meeting (MIAM) to assess whether  mediation may be a suitable way of resolving your case  before you can apply for a Child Arrangements Order.

When the court is deciding whether to grant a Child Arrangements Order, the child’s welfare is its primary consideration.  It has to follow the ‘welfare checklist’, which covers lots of points including the child’s wishes and feelings, their needs and the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances.  The court will usually ask either the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (CAFCASS) or children’s services to prepare a welfare report. You can apply through a solicitor, or apply yourself as a ‘litigant in person’.  It's worth checking whether legal aid is available in your case.

Once you’ve got your Child Arrangements Order, there’s no additional entitlement to support, although you will be able to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits if applicable.  Local authorities have the power to pay an allowance to a  carer with a Child Arrangements Order. This is more likely to be paid if the child was previously looked after by the local authority, but even then there is no automatic entitlement. 

Applying for a Child Arrangements Order is a big decision, and you should never feel under any pressure to apply unless it’s the right thing for you and the child.  It’s important to get independent advice before applying so you can be sure you’re making the right choice.  Living with relatives can be a great option for children who can’t live with their parents, as it gives them a stable home and links to their birth family, but every case is different and there are many factors to consider.  For advice and information on becoming a kinship carer or the different legal arrangements, please contact our advice service.