Since changes to Legal Aid were introduced in April 2013, most people no longer qualify for free legal advice in respect of issues around the arrangements for children. However, if you are a victim of domestic abuse, free legal advice may be available to you, if you are able to prove this in a form accepted by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and you are financially eligible.
Some people are not able to afford to pay for advice from a solicitor, especially if a court application for a Child Arrangements Order is necessary, as legal help can be expensive. This has resulted in it becoming increasingly common for parents applying to the court for a Child Arrangements Order, without legal advice. This raises the question, how do you do this and is it a good idea?
How to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order?
When parents separate, it is a difficult time for the whole family and there is plenty to sort out. The most important of which is often the arrangements for when a child will spend time with each parent. There is little doubt that the best way to do this is to try to reach an agreement directly with the other parent. However, this is not always possible. In such circumstances, it may be necessary to consider alternative options, such as:
- solicitor led discussions
- collaborative law
- a court application for a Child Arrangements Order.
A court application should be a last resort and only considered if there is no other option. Making a court application yourself can understandably be daunting, but it needn’t be. It is now possible to make the initial application online. It is a relatively simple process that can save you money, if it is done right. The application is made via completing a C100 form, which can be accessed on the Government website. If you don’t want to start a court application online, or you are unable to do so for any reason, you can print off the form and send the paper form to the court with the relevant fee.
Attending a MIAM
Prior to making a court application, you will need to attend a MIAM – a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. This is an initial appointment with a mediator to find out whether your matter would be suitable for mediation. The purpose of it is to encourage you and the other parents to find an alternative way to reach an agreement. The court wants parents to make decisions about their child, rather than have decisions forced upon them. The court believes that this gives the arrangements for a child a greater chance of being successful and encourages the parents to effectively co-parent, which can only benefit a child.
You can find a mediator in your local area by using the Family Mediation Council website.
There are exemptions to having to attend a MIAM, these include:
- if you are victim of domestic abuse
- there are child protection concerns in respect of your child
- the application is urgent
- if you live abroad or do not know where the other parent lives.
Do I need permission to make an application?
If you are a parent or someone with parental responsibility for a child then you do not need the court’s permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order. If you are someone else, including a grandparent, you may need the courts permission.
Completing the C100
Completing the C100 is relatively self-explanatory and is a case of providing details about yourself, the other parent and your child. The type of questions you will need to answer are set out below:
- is the child known to Social Services, and if so, has there been any discussion regarding care proceedings?
- are there any safety concerns in respect of the child? For example:
- Is the child at risk of being abducted?
- Are there are drug and/or alcohol misuse concerns in respect of either parent?
- Has the child suffered, or is at risk of suffering, as a result of being exposed to domestic abuse?
- Has the child suffered, or is at risk of suffering, from child abuse?
- what type of application are you making to the court, which includes the following:
- has there been any previous court proceedings in respect of the child?
- is there anyone else that needs to know about the application?
- is it an urgent application?
- is it an application that needs to be made without notice being given to the other parent?
- is the life of the child of one of their parents outside England and Wales?
- are there any practical arrangements the need to put in place to allow any of the parties to attend court, including if an intermediary or interpreter is needed.
If you consider your application to be urgent or that it needs to be made without notice being given to the other parent, you are going to need to be able to justify why this is necessary. This will normally be due to concerns for you or your child’s safety or if it relates to a specific issue that needs to be dealt with by a certain date. For example, what school your child will attend.
You will then need to set out your reasons for making the court application. This should include setting out any previous arrangements that were in place for the child and any reasons that have been provided by the other parent for it not being possible to reach an agreement between you. You need to tell the court what it is that you are asking them to do. This is your opportunity to tell the court what you want to, but you should be concise.
You will be required to sign a statement of truth to confirm that all the information provided in the application is correct. If you are making the application online, this can be done electronically.
The cost of making an application for a Child Arrangements Order is £232, although you may get help paying this, if you are on benefits or low income.
Your reasons for making the court application should be child focussed and based around why what you are proposing is in your child’s best interests. Section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989 sets out a list of considerations that the court should take into account when making a decision relating to a child.
What happens next?
The court will process your application and at this point an organisation called CAFCASS will become involved with your family to carry out a safeguarding check. Please see our video on the involvement of CAFCASS in court proceedings, as well as the next steps, as presented by Rachel Frost-Smith.
Is it a good idea to make an application for a Child Arrangement Order as a litigant in person?
Whilst the initial steps and making the application are reasonably straightforward, they must be corrected completed. If not, you may find it more difficult as your application progresses through the court. Further, dependent upon the issues in your case, it may become more challenging to represent yourself the further in to the proceedings you get. You will have to attend court hearings and may have to prepare more lengthy statements, which could have an impact on the decision made by the Court.
At this point, you may benefit from some advice or representation from a solicitor. It is possible to instruct a solicitor to represent you at any point in the child arrangements proceedings, even if you originally made the application yourself. This would still mean that you save the costs of the initial steps and making the application, but it may be more costly for a solicitor to repair any errors made in the early stages. Therefore, it is worth considering an initial session with a solicitor prior to making an application, so that they can advise you on the specifics of your case. You may find this to be more cost effective in the long run and it should ensure your application starts on the right track.
Please do get in touch with the Birketts Family Team, if you need guidance or support in respect of any issues relating to child arrangements. As well as offering expert advice, the team can also make an application for a Child Arrangements Order on your behalf and represent you in the subsequent court proceedings.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at November 2021.