If you cannot agree the day-to-day child arrangements, our expert child law team will guide you through making an application for a child arrangements order

Child Arrangement Orders used to be referred to as residence, custody, contact and access orders. If your child needs protection we will advise you on your options, including an application for a prohibited steps order. We also have experience in cases involving parental alienation and other allegations of child abuse.

A Child arrangements order - specifies where your children live and the arrangements to see each parent (or some other family member, such as a grandparent, if appropriate).
A Specific issue order – this relates to an issue regarding your children’s upbringing, such as which school they should attend.
A Prohibited steps order – this prevents a particular action, such as taking your children abroad to live or changing their surname.
A Special guardianship order – this is usually more appropriate for wider family members or foster parents of a child. It appoints a person or persons as a child’s special guardian. This gives them parental responsibility which they can exercise to the exclusion of others with parental responsibility on most (but not all) issues.

Parental responsibility is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. In simple terms, a person with parental responsibility is responsible for the care and wellbeing of a child. The law does not list what these responsibilities are but includes making medical, educational, cultural and religious decisions.

Birth mothers will always have parental responsibility for a child, as will her spouse (if a legal parent), a legal parent properly registered on a child’s birth certificate, or through an adoption or parental order. If you or your partner (which can include a step-parent) wish to acquire parental responsibility, we can assist you with the preparation of a parental responsibility agreement if appropriate, or, if necessary, we will guide you through the court process to apply for a parental responsibility or adoption order.

It is not always possible for parents to agree where their children should live and what their care arrangements should be. It can sometimes be even harder to agree the arrangements if one parent decides to move away; whether to a different area or to another country.

A parent needs the permission of everyone with parental responsibility for the child, or permission of the court, to take a child out of the jurisdiction of England and Wales. It is an offence of international child abduction to take a child under 16 out of the jurisdiction without permission.

If parents cannot agree where a child will live (whether this be in the UK or another country) an application will need to be made to the court. In all cases, the welfare of the child is the court's paramount consideration.

Whether you are the parent who has left the country, or you are the parent seeking to have your child returned home, we have the expertise to advise you on your options and support you every step of the way.

For more information, download Your Guide To International Child Abduction

We understand the impact a relationship breakdown can have on the extended family. We are committed to achieving child-focused arrangements that recognise the special bond a child has with their grandparents and wider family members.

We are experienced in dealing with cases involving different jurisdictions and working with an international network of experts and lawyers.

Visit our International page for more information

If you already have a child arrangement order in place, our team can help you appeal or enforce the terms. We can also help you make an application to vary an order. If you believe that a person is not adhering to the terms of a child arrangements order, you can apply to the court and ask it to intervene.

The court has a wide range of powers and may order one or more of the following steps:

Varying the Child Arrangements order which could include a more defined order or reconsideration of the child's living or contact arrangements.

An order for your ex-partner to pay compensation (financial loss order)

Ordering your ex-partner to attend a SPIP (Separated Parents Information Programme) or ordering the parties to attend mediation

Committing your ex-partner to prison (in the most serious cases)

Ordering your ex-partner to pay a fine.

An enforcement order (or suspended order) against your ex-partner. By making an enforcement order the court can impose on a person a requirement to do between 40-200 hours of unpaid community service (referred to as an “unpaid work requirement”).

1. Who can apply for an enforcement order?
In the vast majority of cases, the person making the application will be the person who lives with the child(ren), or the person who is supposed to be having contact with the child(ren) under the terms of the child arrangements order.

2. How to apply for an enforcement order
Unlike applying for a child arrangements order, you do not need to attend mediation before making an enforcement application.

The application will normally need to be issued at the court which is nearest to the home address of the child(ren) involved in the proceedings.

Once the court has issued the application and scheduled a hearing or directions appointment, the relevant papers will be sent to you (or your legal representatives). Those papers will also need to be served on the respondent (or their legal representatives), at least 14 days before the hearing or directions appointment.

3. What does the respondent need to do?
Within 14 days of receiving the papers, the respondent must file at court and send you their response to the application. This will normally include such things as: the date they received the application; whether or not they oppose the application; and whether or not they intend to apply for a separate court order.

4. The court’s consideration of an application
When considering an application, the court will be mindful of the following things:

  • whether or not the facts about the alleged non-compliance are agreed between the parties.
  • the possible reasons for the respondent failing to comply with the child arrangements order.
  • the wishes, feelings and general welfare of the child(ren).
  • whether or not an enforcement order is proportionate and appropriate in the circumstances.

5. Monitoring compliance with an enforcement order
After having made an order, the court may ask CAFCASS to regularly check that the respondent is complying with the order. It will be CAFCASS’ responsibility to report back to the court should there be any issues regarding the respondent’s compliance with the order.

6. When will the court decline to make an enforcement order?
The court will not make an enforcement order if it believes that the respondent has a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with a child arrangements order.

7. What if the respondent does not comply with the enforcement order?
If this happens, the respondent is first given a formal warning. Should the problems persist, the respondent runs the risk of having the order amended to be more severe. For instance, the number of hours of unpaid work may be increased (up to a total of 200 hours) and/or the period of the order may be extended beyond 12 months.

Related Services

We combine legal expertise with practical support that focuses on the wellbeing of your family throughout.

Child Maintenance and Financial Support for Children

Divorce, Dissolution and Judicial Separation

Domestic Abuse

Financial Settlements for Married Couples

Financial Settlements for Unmarried Couples


Dispute Resolution

Second Opinion

Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to the different ways people can resolve disputes without going to court. A combination of ADR processes can be used during a dispute, or they can be used alongside litigation. We will guide you through the different pathways to reach a resolution, as well as being expert litigators should court proceedings be necessary.

Supporting you every step of the way

We know how hard it can be to navigate moments that are emotionally challenging and that is why we don’t just focus on the legal work. We make the wellbeing of you and your children a priority throughout and have partnered with other people we know and trust and who are as good in their fields as we are in ours.

Visit our support hub for information about coaching, wellbeing and support services.


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