What to do when a Court Order relating to your child changes
The Court accepts that even after an Order has been made in relation to arrangements for a child’s care, matters can change and that Order may not be what is best for the child for the entirety of their childhood. As children grow what perhaps was right for them at a younger age, will not necessarily suit them as they enter their teenage years for example.
If a parent believes that an Order needs to change, the starting point is to talk to the other parent about why they believe that the arrangements are no longer in the best interests of the children. Even if proceedings have been required in the past, this does not mean that they will be required again. The Court encourages parents to try and work together and agree what it best for the children without the need to return the matter to Court.
If the parents find it difficult to discuss matters directly, mediation can be used as a forum to consider changes to arrangements. Please see our blog “What is mediation and what can be discussed at mediation” for more information.
If mediation is not an option, a solicitor can write to the other parent outlining the proposal for change and reasons why the parents believes the change would be in the best interests of the children.
If both parents agree to a change, the Order can be amended by consent and the amended order can be lodged at Court for approval. The Court may still wish to schedule a short hearing to ensure that they, and the welfare officers of the Court, Cafcass, also agree that the changes are in the best interests of the children; however the Judge considering the Order may not find this step necessary and can simply approve the Order without asking the parties to attend Court.
If however the parents cannot agree, an application to vary the existing Child Arrangements Order/Residence Order will need to be made to the Court.
The process of considering changes to the Order will follow the same procedure as if no Order was in place in that, the Court will list a first hearing. Prior to that hearing, Cafcass will contact both parents to discuss the application and will undertake their safeguarding checks. At the first hearing, the Court will encourage the parties to reach an agreement if possible. If this is not possible, the Court will consider what directions are required to move the matter forward. This will include consideration as to whether Cafcass need to compile a full report, or a “wishes and feelings” report, with recommendations as to what is in the best interests of the children. If the Court does not deem the report necessary, the matter will proceed to a Final Hearing with both parties preparing statements as to their position.
At a Final Hearing, the parents will be cross-examined and the Judge will ultimately make a decision as to whether or not the Order should be varied. If so, the previous Order will be replaced by the varied version.
That varied Order would be capable of review again whilst the children remain under the age of 16. The parents are encouraged however to try and agree matters directly prior to issuing a further application to vary the Child Arrangements Order.