What is a Child Arrangement Order?

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A Child Arrangement Order (CAO) is a legal document issued by a court that outlines the arrangements for the upbringing of a child. It is typically used in family law cases where parents are unable to reach an agreement on the living arrangements, contact, and other aspects of their child’s life following a separation or divorce. CAOs are now used in place of residence orders and contact orders.

When going through the breakdown of a relationship or divorce proceedings, the issue of child custody is a necessary but difficult decision that must be made. If you are struggling to reach an agreement regarding living arrangements for your children, our expert legal panel of child custody solicitors can provide the advice and assistance you need.

Having good child custody solicitors in place can make all the difference and will ensure your children feel secure, safe and wanted whilst helping parents come to the right decision, keeping your children’s needs at the heart of all decisions.

How to apply for a child arrangement order

Applying for a Child Arrangement Order (CAO) typically involves several steps. It’s crucial to seek legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances, as family law procedures can differ. However, the general steps are as follows:

Seek Legal Advice:

  • Before initiating any legal proceedings, it’s advisable to seek legal advice. A family law solicitor can provide guidance on the specific requirements and procedures for your case.


  • You may be required to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before applying to court. This is an opportunity to explore alternative dispute resolution methods before resorting to court proceedings.

Fill Out the Necessary Forms:

  • Obtain the relevant application forms from the family court or online portal. The specific documents you need will depend on your circumstances and the orders you are seeking. Common forms include C100 for a Child Arrangement Order and C1A if there are allegations of domestic violence.

File the Application:

  • Submit the completed forms to the family court. You may need to pay a filing fee unless you are eligible for fee exemption.

Attend Court Hearings:

  • After filing the application, the court will schedule hearings to consider the case. Both parents (or relevant parties) will be required to attend. The court will assess the situation, taking into account the best interests of the child.

CAFCASS Involvement:

  • In some cases, the court may involve the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) or a similar service. They may interview parents, the child, and other relevant parties to provide a report to the court regarding the child’s welfare.

Court Decision:

  • The court for child arrangements will make a decision based on the evidence presented and the best interests of the child. This decision may result in a Child Arrangement Order specifying residence, contact, and other details.


Who can apply for a CAO?

The ability to apply for a Child Arrangement Order (CAO) is not limited to parents; various individuals can apply for such an order. Ssome of the parties who may be eligible to apply for a CAO:

  • Parents: Both biological or adoptive parents have the right to apply for a Child Arrangement Order to legally specify how a child spends time with each parent. Under section 8 of the Children’s Act 1989, only parents and guardians are allowed to seek a CAO without first getting permission from the court.
  • Guardians: Legal guardians who may have been appointed by the court or named in a will can apply for a CAO.
  • Anyone with Parental Responsibility: Individuals other than the biological or adoptive parents, such as step-parents or same-sex partners, can apply if they have acquired parental responsibility for the child.
  • Those with Leave of the Court: In some cases, individuals who do not have parental responsibility may apply for a CAO, but they first need to obtain the court’s permission (leave) to make the application.
  • Grandparents: Grandparents can apply for a child arrangement order, but they may need to seek permission from the court first.
  • Other Relatives: Other relatives, such as aunts, uncles, or siblings, may also be eligible to apply for a CAO.

It’s important to note that the court will consider the best interests of the child when deciding on a Child Arrangement Order. The court may also encourage parties to attempt mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods before resorting to court proceedings.

What are the factors considered when granting an order?

When a court is considering whether to grant a Child Arrangement Order (CAO), the primary focus is on the best interests of the child. The court aims to make decisions that promote the child’s welfare and well-being. Common factors include:

  • Wishes and Feelings of the Child: The court may take into account the child’s age, maturity, and understanding, considering their wishes and feelings regarding the arrangements.
  • Physical, Emotional, and Educational Needs: The court will assess the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs and how the proposed arrangements meet those needs.
  • Effect of Changes in Circumstances: Any changes in the child’s circumstances, including changes in living arrangements, schools, or relationships, will be considered.
  • Capability of the Parents or Guardians: The court will evaluate the ability of each parent or guardian to meet the child’s needs, including their willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
  • Any Risk of Harm: The court will consider whether there is any risk of harm to the child, including physical, emotional, or psychological harm. This may involve assessing allegations of abuse or neglect.
  • Domestic Violence or Abuse: Cases involving allegations of domestic violence or abuse will be carefully examined, and the court will prioritise the safety and well-being of the child.
  • Parents’ Ability to Cooperate: The court may assess the ability of the parents or guardians to cooperate and communicate effectively, promoting the child’s best interests.
  • Sibling Relationships: The court will consider the importance of maintaining relationships between the child and their siblings, especially if they have been living together.
  • The Capacity of Each Parent to Encourage a Relationship with the Other Parent: The court may assess each parent’s willingness and ability to encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • Any Relevant Court Orders or Agreements: Existing court orders or agreements, such as parenting plans or custody arrangements, will be taken into account.

Varying a child arrangement order can be done if there are substantial changes in circumstances, but the orders are legally binding generally up until the child turns 18 years old. 

What does an order outline?

A Child Arrangement Order (CAO) is a legal document issued by a court detailing the living arrangements and upbringing of a child in cases of parental separation or divorce. It specifies the primary residence of the child, designates the custodial parent, and outlines the contact or visitation rights for the non-residential parent. The order may include provisions for communication, establishing how and when the child interacts with the non-residential parent or other family members. 

Additionally, it may address matters such as holiday and special occasion arrangements, educational decisions, medical care, and the child’s religious and cultural upbringing. Provisions may be made for dispute resolution mechanisms and periodic reviews to assess and potentially modify the arrangements based on the evolving needs of the child. The order also specifies how long a child must follow the plan set out in a CAO.

A CAO aims to create a stable and supportive environment for the child, prioritising their best interests while providing a framework for co-parenting responsibilities. 

How can Expert Family Law help?

When disputes arise between parents, it can be helpful to have someone outside of the relationship to help you navigate through the conflict and provide you with the best advice on moving forward, keeping the needs of your children at the forefront.

We understand that disputes involving children and their care can be incredibly complex and sensitive. The solicitors on our panel can provide you with the best advice and assistance on resolving child arrangement disputes and obtaining Orders from the Court if the dispute cannot be resolved between the parents or through the process of mediation.

As well as assisting with child arrangements, our panel of family law solicitors can also advise and help on the process of divorce and the division of assets following the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership (ancillary relief).

We ensure that the family law solicitors on our panel have the skills and experience required to assist with your legal case. We can assure you that your case will be dealt with in a compassionate and understanding manner.

Get in touch today using the form at the top of the page to find out if a child arrangement solicitor from our panel could help on your case.


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