How to get a successful child arrangements order outcome

A child arrangements order is an order a judge can make about a child. 

Also known as a CAO, the child arrangements order stipulates which parent a child will live with and the type and frequency of contact a child will have with the non-resident parent. The order can also state how much time a child will live with each parent.

The order is legally binding and can go into a lot of detail and include special conditions, or it can be light touch, with less detail.

How do you get a successful outcome? The short answer is, it depends.

What does success mean?

Success in court is often seen in simplistic terms.  One party ‘gets what they want’ and the other side ‘don’t get what they want’.  In other words one wins and the other loses. 

This view of success could partly be because of the way the system works.

One parent goes up against the other parent by applying for a child arrangements order – and triggering court proceedings.  The other parent receives the court papers in the post, and this may be the very first time they find out about the application.

And so proceedings start on a less than happy note, with one parent feeling like they are on the back foot.

Each parent has his or her own views and reasons for wanting what they want. The lines have been drawn – and each parent is on different sides of the line.

In law there are two parties to the proceedings:  the parent who makes the application (the applicant) and the parent who responds to the application (the respondent).  But I believe that parents should think broader than this legal definition. 

When a child arrangements case is going through the courts, it is about more than just the two parties (the parents).  It has to be.

It makes more sense, as a parent, to understand that in reality, there are at least three ‘parties’ involved in any child arrangements application, and often more.  These parties are: parent A, parent B and child A (plus child B, child C, etc).

I believe that a shift in thinking is important because it will help to change the view about what constitutes a successful outcome. 

When I talk about a successful outcome, I mean an outcome that is successful for your child.

How to win for your child

Rather than your child arrangements order being about winning your case against your ex-partner, make it about winning for your child.

With this in mind, here are a few direct questions to ask yourself:

(caveat: some of the questions below assume that there are no child safeguarding issues)

  • Is the outcome I’m striving for in my child’s best interests?
  • Is this what my child wants?
  • Is what I want safe for my child?
  • Is what I’m doing and saying promoting my child’s wellbeing?
  • Am I reinforcing positive perceptions about my child’s father/mother to my child?
  • Am I creating positive memories for my child?
  • Am I allowing my feelings about my ex-partner to cloud my judgement?
  • Am I allowing my feelings about my ex-partner to affect my child?

These are just a few points to get started, and focused on your child’s best interests.

Safeguarding and child welfare

When dealing with any applications for child orders, the courts are, rightly, concerned with safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children.

Safeguarding is about protecting the rights of children so that they can live free from abuse, harm and neglect.  Child welfare includes the measures used by different government bodies to protect children and encourage family stability.

More specifically, when dealing with a child arrangements order, a court will apply the Welfare Checklist when making its decision.

What is the Welfare Checklist?

The Welfare Checklist, in brief, covers:

  1. The feelings and wishes of a child
  2. A child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
  3. The effect of any change in a child’s circumstances
  4. A child’s age, sex, background or any other relevant characteristics
  5. Any harm a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  6. How capable each parent is of meeting their child’s needs
  7. The range of powers (in other words: the orders) available to the court

It makes good sense to follow the court’s lead and, rather than being side-tracked by the will to win, focus instead on the best outcome for your child.

Copyright © Going to Court Alone – Debbie Thomas

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