Child arrangements are amongst the most difficult aspects of a divorce to manage.

 

In addition to the emotional impact, it can be hard to envision a separated life including children before you’re living it, which can make it difficult to plan effectively. Unforeseen circumstances can also change plans without warning, or make the original agreement   impractical or difficult for the children.

 

This can put you in a position post-divorce where you feel that it would be better to alter the arrangements made for your children.

 

If you only have a kitchen table agreement with your ex-spouse about where the children will live, how they will have contact with each parent, and so on, this may be something you can informally negotiate outside of court.

 

On the other hand, if a Child Arrangement Order has previously been made in court, the process can be more complicated. Orders are made according to what is decided to be in the best interests of the children at the time and, to vary the order, courts will often need to see how this change will prioritise the child’s welfare.

 

To avoid the consequences of breaking a court order, it’s extremely important to seek legal guidance and follow the correct protocols. This post will explore the process of altering child arrangements, both in cases when an ex agrees to the change, and when they do not.

 

Read our guide to making Child Arrangements in Divorce.

 

When Might Child Arrangements Need to Change

 

Some common reasons to want an alteration to children’s living or contact arrangements include:

 

  • When a child now desires more or less contact with a parent or family member
  • When a parent is moving to a new establishment and can no longer easily meet the terms of the order
  • If the needs of a child have significantly changed
  • If a parent’s employment or other commitments make the initial order difficult to comply with.
  • If the relative the child is living with refuses to prioritise the child’s right to have contact with their non-resident parent(s)

 

a child and parent holding hands

 

If one of these circumstances occurs, or you have a different reason for changing child arrangements, a good first step is to contact your child’s other parent.

 

You are likely to have a significantly easier time officially changing arrangements if both parents agree to it. If they do not agree or you struggle to decide on a new arrangement between yourselves, you may find mediation helpful.

 

If you haven’t before this point, this is also the time where it’s advisable to seek legal help from a professional, such as a family law solicitor.

When everyone with parental responsibility agrees to change the order

 

If separated parents (and/or anyone else with parental responsibility for the children) comes to an agreement about changing the order, you can draft a consent order. This should lay out the new arrangements you have decided on together, and your legal advisor may be able to assist you with it.

 

As parents will need to sign the application to prove that you both agree, you will not need to attend mediation before applying to the court.

 

If the court approves the new order, it will become legally binding.

 

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If a parent disagrees with the changes…

 

When a parent or guardian disagrees with the changes proposed, and you cannot come to an agreement through mediation, you can begin the process of applying for a variation order.

 

Any person who has parental responsibility may choose to pursue a variation order. Additionally, you can apply if you already have a “live with” child arrangement order in your favour, if you have lived with the child for at least 3 years, or if you have the consent of everyone with parental responsibility.

 

There are additional options if you are hoping to vary the existing court order for a child in local authority care or the foster system.

 

If you initially applied for child access through the court, you may find applying for a variation order a similar process.

a child hugging parent

 

Before embarking on the court process, it’s important to clearly consider whether the variation will be in the child’s best interests. If it is not, it is less likely to be passed by the court, and your family may find the legal process upsetting or stressful.

 

If you’re unsure where you stand, seek legal advice from a reputable family lawyer who is experienced in children’s law. They will be able to look objectively at your case, and tell you early on if there’s anything more you need to consider. They also often have professional links with barristers, should you require one to present your case in court.

 

Applying for a variation order

 

To apply for a variation order in England or Wales, you should fill out the C100 application form and submit it to your local family court. The court fee for processing a C100 form is currently £215.

 

After approximately 4-6 weeks, you’ll receive the date for a First Directions Hearing. If an agreement cannot be reached there, further hearings will be arranged. These often involve the presentation of evidence such as witness testimonies.

 

In some cases, Cafcass may also be involved to ensure the children’s needs, opinions, and wishes are correctly considered in the case.

 

When considering your request, the court will heavily refer to the statutory welfare checklist contained in the Children Act 1989. They will use this and the information provided in family court to decide whether making a new order is better for the child’s welfare than making no order. According to The Children Act, this should be determined without undue delay.

 

The court has the power to change who the children are required to live with, contact, and spend time with. If they believe it to be in the child’s best interest, they may alternatively decide to keep the existing order in place.

 

What happens if you fail to comply with a court order for child access?

 

If you refuse to stick with the arrangements laid out in the order, you may find yourself facing some serious consequences.

 

The courts do not monitor child arrangements; however, your child’s other parent can choose to enforce the order if they notice you are frequently failing to comply with the court’s ruling.

 

parents fighting

 

You should receive a warning notice if they have chosen to do this. If you continue to refuse to comply, this will result in a court hearing to investigate the reasons for the non-compliance and the effect on the children involved.

 

The court can come to a number of different rulings, including:

  • Referring you and the other parent to mediation or a Separated Parents Information Programme
  • Varying the order according to the changed circumstances
  • Fining the parent or guardian who refused to comply
  • Imposing community service hours or prison time (this is rare) on the parent who breached the order.

 

Can I receive legal aid to alter child arrangements?

 

Receiving legal aid to help you to change child arrangements isn’t common, but may be possible depending on your circumstances. It might be possible to receive legal aid if you or your child has been a victim of domestic abuse or if you are at risk of becoming homeless, for example.

 

Whether or not you qualify for legal aid for advice and representation, you may be able to receive legal aid for family mediation.

 

If do not qualify for legal aid but are unable to afford the representation needed to improve the welfare of your child, charities such as weareadvocate may be able to help.

 

Where can I find legal advice about changing child arrangement orders?

 

Harbour Family Law are a Bristol-based firm specialising in Family Law. Each of our solicitors are members of Resolution – a group of legal professionals dedicated to keeping family law proceedings as dignified as possible.

 

If you’re considering applying for a Variation Order, our expert lawyers can help. We promise to listen carefully to all cases with empathy and professionalism, and offer the best advice possible. Contact us today.

 

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The news articles and blogs contained on this website do not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While Harbour Family Law aims to ensure that the information is correct (for England & Wales) at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. You therefore acknowledge and agree that Harbour Family Law Ltd accept no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss of damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of our website to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.