Direct Mediation Services

Reasons to vary a child arrangements order

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An issue that often takes a lot of hard work and discussion when a couple separate or divorce is how to share the upbringing of their children and make sure both parents get to spend enough time with their children and have a meaningful relationship with them as they grow up.

This can often be agreed through mediation, and can be made into a binding Child Arrangement Order through the family court, if that is what the couple wants. Alternatively, if the divorcing couple cannot agree arrangements between themselves or with the help of mediation, one parent might have asked the court to decide on the terms and for the court to make a Child Arrangements Order.

But once the Child Arrangements Order is made, is that it? Are the terms of the court order set in stone until the child is 18?

This article will explain what options you have if it becomes more difficult and impractical to work within the terms of the Child Arrangements Order, and you would like to have the terms varied.

Can the terms of a Child Arrangements Order be changed?

A Child Arrangements Order is made based on the situation at that time the order is made, what the children are likely to need in the future as they grow up, and what is felt to be in the children’s best interests.

But circumstances change. The children’s needs are likely to change over the years, one or both parents might change jobs or working patterns, or even relocate to a different area, meaning it can become much more difficult than originally expected – or even impossible – to continue with the original order.

The courts accept that sometimes it’s not reasonable or best for the children for the original order to be set in stone until they’re 18, so the answer to the question is yes, it is possible to change the terms of a Child Arrangement Order.

Do we have to get another court order if we need to change the Child Arrangements Order?

If both parents agree with how to change the terms of the order, there is actually no need to go back to court, although you could do if you wanted the revised terms to be binding in the same way as the original order. You should write down and both sign the amendments to the order that you have agreed to.

Some divorced couples find it difficult to have these sorts of discussions after they have gone their separate ways but still need to come together to agree important things about the children. As with the initial discussions about the arrangements for your children when you separated, mediation can be a very effective way of discussing and agreeing the exact changes that need to be made and will be best for your children.

An issue that often takes a lot of hard work and discussion when a couple separate or divorce is how to share the upbringing of their children and make sure both parents get to spend enough time with their children and have a meaningful relationship with them as they grow up.

This can often be agreed through mediation, and can be made into a binding Child Arrangement Order through the family court, if that is what the couple wants. Alternatively, if the divorcing couple cannot agree arrangements between themselves or with the help of mediation, one parent might have asked the court to decide on the terms and for the court to make a Child Arrangements Order.

But once the Child Arrangements Order is made, is that it? Are the terms of the court order set in stone until the child is 18?

This article will explain what options you have if it becomes more difficult and impractical to work within the terms of the Child Arrangements Order, and you would like to have the terms varied.

Can the terms of a Child Arrangements Order be changed?

A Child Arrangements Order is made based on the situation at that time the order is made, what the children are likely to need in the future as they grow up, and what is felt to be in the children’s best interests.

But circumstances change. The children’s needs are likely to change over the years, one or both parents might change jobs or working patterns, or even relocate to a different area, meaning it can become much more difficult than originally expected – or even impossible – to continue with the original order.

The courts accept that sometimes it’s not reasonable or best for the children for the original order to be set in stone until they’re 18, so the answer to the question is yes, it is possible to change the terms of a Child Arrangement Order.

Do we have to get another court order if we need to change the Child Arrangements Order?

If both parents agree with how to change the terms of the order, there is actually no need to go back to court, although you could do if you wanted the revised terms to be binding in the same way as the original order. You should write down and both sign the amendments to the order that you have agreed to.

Some divorced couples find it difficult to have these sorts of discussions after they have gone their separate ways but still need to come together to agree important things about the children. As with the initial discussions about the arrangements for your children when you separated, mediation can be a very effective way of discussing and agreeing the exact changes that need to be made and will be best for your children.

Do I have to use a solicitor if I have to go to court for the Child Arrangements Order to be changed?

As with applying for a Child Arrangements Order in the first place, it is not strictly speaking necessary to use a solicitor to make the court application, but it is strongly advisable. The form is quite long and it is important to word the application carefully and include enough information at the right level of detail.

If you have to apply to the court for them to make a decision about the terms of changes to a Child Arrangements Order, there will at some stage need to be a court hearing. You have three options for this:

  1. You could present your own case in court personally. This is sometimes called being a litigant in person. Although family court hearings are not as formal as criminal court proceedings – nothing like courtroom dramas you will be used to seeing on the TV or in films – they are a very unfamiliar environment for most people. Also, if your ex is using a solicitor, you will find yourself putting your arguments forward against a “professional”, which can leave you feeling the odds are stacked against you.
  2. You could use a solicitor to prepare and present your case in court. This takes the pressure of needing to persuade the judge or magistrates off you personally, and your solicitor will present your case in the best possible light to persuade the judge or magistrates. However, this is the most expensive option. You would probably expect your solicitor’s fees to prepare and fully represent you in your case to run into the thousands of pounds.
  3. If you cannot afford to pay a solicitor to represent you, but don’t want to go through the process alone, another option to consider might be to use a McKenzie Friend service. This is someone who has knowledge of the law and how the court works, but is not authorised to speak on your behalf in court. So, you would still have to speak in court to present your case, but your McKenzie Friend would be there with you during the hearing and suggest to you questions you might want to ask, points you might want to make to the judge or magistrate, and give you support and encouragement through the process. A professional McKenzie Friend will charge for their services, but it is likely to be much less than a solicitor would charge for fully representing you.

As previously mentioned, though, mediation should always be your first option before making an application to court. You will usually need to show the court that you have attempted mediation before you can make an application, but in any case, mediation is often the best and most cost-effective way to reach an agreement with your ex. The agreement you both reach through mediation can be used to apply for a Child Arrangements Order if that is what you both wish, and this would be a much smoother and less expensive way of making formal amendments to the Child Arrangements Order.

Conclusion

A Child Arrangements Order sets out how a divorcing couple intend to share their child-raising responsibilities after they divorce – or how a court orders them to do it. Circumstances change over time, however, and sometimes the original terms of the order become less workable over time and might not fully meet the children’s needs.

In these cases, the terms of an order can be changed to reflect new circumstances. There is no need for the stress and expense of more court hearings if both parties agree to the new arrangements. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, however, it might be necessary for one party to make an application to court to have the original order varied.

As with many family issues, mediation can be a particularly cost-effective and successful way to reach agreement on important matters like this where the people involved find it difficult for whatever reason to have the discussions directly between themselves. Talk to one of our friendly and experienced team to find out how we can help you.

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