A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) 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. You may have previously heard them called a Residence Order.
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.
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.
Applying for a Child Arrangements Order is a big decision, so it is important to get independent advice before applying so you can be sure you’re making the right choice.
You can apply through a solicitor, or apply yourself and you may be able to receive support with the costs of applying through legal aid. It is important that you do seek the advice of a solicitor as they will be able to discuss your options with you.
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.
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, as 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.
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.