Child Arrangements Order (C100)
The starting point for any separated parent who cannot resolve parent-sharing arrangements with their ex-partner is a #ChildArrangements order (CAO) using a form C100.
There can be many reasons for applying to the court, such as a history of domestic abuse, parental alienation or hostility to contact, or a complete breakdown in communications and trust. The list goes on.
Through the CAO, the court will gather the necessary evidence to make the required welfare decisions for the child or children of the family. It will include:
- essential safeguarding reports
- social worker reports (section 7 report)
- the possibility of an evidential fact-finding hearing (FFH). This may become necessary to build a factual matrix of information.
- recommendations and guidance from child-related professionals and
- a final welfare hearing.
Dependent upon the complexity of the issues before the court, the entire process can take one to two years.
For this reason, the court often requires parents to attempt mediation first and attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting).
However, because agreements made through mediation are not legally binding, parents often feel that mediation is pointless and unhelpful.
Disappointment then follows parties into the family court because parents do not understand the process, and the various professionals they may engage with do not adequately manage the expectations. This leads to frustration and, sometimes, a reluctance to accept the findings and decisions that a court will inevitably make should the parents not agree.
When disappointment occurs, what may follow is a summary determination by the live-with-parent not to comply with the order.
This is particularly the case where there are unresolved allegations of historical or ongoing domestic abuse that the live-with-parent felt were relevant to their reasons for stopping contact with the other parent in the first place. Essentially, the live-with-parent may deem it unsafe for the children to spend time with the other parent.
In such circumstances, we increasingly find that co-parenting relations become intractable;
that is, there is no meeting of mindsets or willingness to compromise for the children's best interests. Such hostility to contact may become parental alienation. This may be a very entrenched and bitter war between the parents, with the children caught in the middle and often being pulled from pillar to post to side with whichever parent they live with.
Nevertheless, the court will produce a final order which follows the evidence and the recommendations provided by the child professionals (e.g., Cafcass, Independent Social Worker, Local Authority Social Worker, Child Psychologist etc.).
It then falls to the parents to uphold and comply with the final order, irrespective of whether they agree with it.
Failure to comply with any order of the court is contempt of the court and a breach.