16 August 2023

How to get custody of a child in the UK

Individual applications for ‘custody/residence’ and ‘contact’ orders have now been replaced by all encompassing child arrangement orders (CAO).

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Individual applications for ‘custody/residence’ and ‘contact’ orders have now been replaced by all encompassing child arrangement orders (CAO). A CAO will regulate with whom a child is to live (‘live with order’), spend time (‘spend time with order’) or otherwise have contact with. Along with this, there are various other orders that you should know about.

C100 form

A C100 Form is an “Application under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 for a child arrangements, prohibited steps, specific issue order or to vary or discharge or ask permission to make a section 8 order” within which you are required to cite your reasoning for making the application and which order(s) you seek, provided you have Parental Responsibility (PR) you can apply for any or all of the orders mentioned above.  In the absence of PR you will need to submit an application on form C1 entitled “Application for an Order” to apply for Parental Responsibility which if granted will give you the permission you require in order to make an Application under section 8 of the Children Act 1989.

Prohibited Steps Order

A Prohibited Steps Order (PSO) is an order preventing a certain event occurring such as the removal of the child from the country, consenting to a medical procedure, or even changing the child’s surname.

Specific Issue Order

A Specific Issue Order (SIO) is an order determining a specific question that has arisen such as whether a child should undergo, medical treatment, where the child should be schooled, whether a child can be removed from the United Kingdom and changing a child’s surname.

Before the proceedings reach the courts, the parents must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Parties will only be exempt from this if there are exceptional circumstances within the case such as risk of harm, domestic abuse or there has been breakdown of previous mediation within the past four months, etc. In the event mediation is either deemed unsuitable or breaks down the mediator will provide you with a certificate, which replaces page 9 of the C100 form, the CAO should be lodged at Court in triplicate along with the Court Issue Fee of £232 or fee remission form if applicable.

How long does it take to get a court order?

Once the C100 form has been issued both parties will receive notice of the first hearing. It is possible that the Court may wish to convene Gatekeeping Appointments, which are internal hearings within the Court, and at which neither party are invited to attend. The Court utilises Gatekeeping Appointments to decide how best to manage a party’s application at the early stages of the case.

Turning to attended hearings (at which both parties’ attendance is required), there are three possible stages of hearings:

The first hearing is a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA), the purpose of the hearing is to identify and narrow the issues and see whether there is a possibility of the parties reaching an agreement.

During the hearing the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) safeguarding letter will be considered by the Magistrates/Judge hearing the case who will determine whether it is necessary for CAFCASS to carry out further investigations and prepare a report called an s7 report for filing with the Court. In preparing the report CAFCASS will usually speak with the child (ren) (depending on their age and understanding) at a neutral venue which is usually their school, they will also speak with the parties separately and listen to any concerns you may have. Once CAFCASS have concluded their investigations they as part of their report will make recommendations to the Court.

The second hearing is a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) where the CAFCASS report will be discussed and their recommendations considered. The key issues of the case will be determined and whether they can be resolved or narrowed. The parties will either accept these issues and recommendations or they will with the assistance of the Magistrates/Judge and or CAFCASS attempt to negotiate.

At this stage, the vast majority of cases will settle in line with the recommendations made by CAFCASS. However, if either party does not agree with the recommendations the matter will then be set down for a final hearing whereby the Magistrates/Judge will determine the application before the court.

When considering the application the court’s paramount consideration shall be the child’s welfare.

It should be noted that the parties or the judge can stop court proceedings at any stage and can resume mediation. This is often beneficial for parties to save time and money and begin cooperating for an outcome that works well for both of them. Depending on the complexity of the matter, Court proceedings can take up to a year but normally average at around 10 to 16 months.

Child Maintenance Court Order

Child Maintenance was previously regulated by the Child Support Agency (CSA) and is now operated by The Child Maintenance Service (CMS). In the majority of cases, an issue relating to child maintenance will be dealt with privately between the parties or through the CMS; however there are some limited cases in which the Court has jurisdiction over child maintenance.

If child maintenance has been implemented within a Court order, then that provision will only be enforceable for one year. Once that year has lapsed, either party may make a referral to the CMS to have their maintenance reviewed as the Court cannot oust the jurisdiction of the Child Maintenance Service. You can use the CMS if you are a parent, non resident parent, grandparent or guardian or a child over 12 living in Scotland.

Applications for child maintenance are made via the Child Maintenance Service for which a nominal fee is payable, unless the applicant is either under 19 years of age or is a victim of domestic abuse. Parties are however encouraged to reach an agreement between them with the assistance of Child Maintenance Options. The amount payable is determined by the paying parent’s gross weekly income, the time spent with the paying parent and the number of other children that live in the household.

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