A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) is an order made by the Court that regulates who a child lives with, spends time with, or has contact with – and when.
Each CAO is made after the circumstances of the individual family are considered, along with what is in the best interests of the child. If the parent the child lives with fails to make them available for contact as agreed, they are in breach of the Court Order.
If this is happening to you and you are unable to see your child under the terms of the CAO, then you need to apply to the Court for enforcement of the Order.
What constitutes a breach?
Technically a breach could be a parent being 5 minutes late at the agreed time for contact – but the Court is likely to see this as insignificant. Before making an application, you need to decide if the breach is regular and intentional.
What does the Court look at?
The Court will:
- Consider whether the facts relevant to the alleged non-compliance are agreed, or whether it is necessary to conduct a hearing to establish the facts
- Consider the reason for any non-compliance
- Consider how the wishes and feelings of the child are to be ascertained
- Consider whether advice is required from CAFCASS on the appropriate way
- Assess and manage any risks of making further or other Child Arrangements
- The welfare of the child.
The Court must be satisfied – beyond reasonable doubt – that the parent with care has failed to comply with the Child Arrangements Order, unless that parent can show on a balance of probabilities that they had a reasonable excuse.
What happens if they are found to be in breach?
If a parent is found to be in breach of a CAO and they don’t have a good reason for this, they could face sanctions, such as community unpaid work of up to 200 hours, a fine – or even imprisonment.
The Court can also make additional orders if this is considered appropriate.
What if we change the arrangements ourselves?
There are certainly reasons to be flexible, especially when its for the benefit of the child – for example if a child wants to take part in sports at school during your agreed contact time.
Sometimes parents will agree to change the arrangements between themselves. If you are in agreement this is fine, although bear in mind it is not legally binding unless the Court formally varies the Order.
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