The old “Residence” and “Contact” Orders (most commonly known in the past as custody and access) were replaced with the introduction of the Children & Families Act 2014, with Child Arrangements Orders, in April last year. This new term seeks to reduce animosity and the feeling of “winning” and “losing” a child case – all in the best interests of the child.
What is it?
A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) means an Order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following:
- With whom the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact.
- When a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any other person.
The programme is designed to facilitate and encourage the resolution of disputes outside of the court system. Litigation is to be avoided where possible. Any person applying for a CAO must first consider mediation unless an exemption applies. It is hoped that resolution can be reached in this more friendly and less costly environment.
If court proceedings are necessary a structured programme is followed, with emphasis at each juncture on resolving the dispute amicably and through mediation. A useful flow chart can be found on the following link:
The programme emphasises that the child or young person should feel that their needs, wishes and feelings have been considered in the arrangements made and should be involved in making the arrangements to the appropriate extent given their age and level of understanding.
Is it Working?
Near the end of last year CAFCASS released figures showing that the number of private children cases had dropped by 36%. This could mean that the Child Arrangement Programme has worked, with cases being resolved at mediation.
However, lawyers from Resolution and The Law Society believe that these figures are attributed to many families “giving up” on the courts. The added pressure, delay and expense of mediation is proving too much. This is worrying, as the drop in court cases could mean that there are more separated families where children are needlessly missing out on a loving relationship with one parent – a factor that could harm their personality in the future. This most certainly undermines the very essence of the thought and policies behind the new Child Arrangement Programme.
What is your experience? Please comment.