A guide to child arrangements

The journey of figuring out child arrangements (formerly known by terms such as ‘residence’/‘custody’ or ‘contact’/‘access’) after a separation can be tough. Deciding what's best for your child is important but can feel overwhelming. If you're looking for ways to sort child arrangements, you're in the right place.

As family mediators, we're here to help you find amicable solutions to child arrangements. Our aim is to find ways to help both parents participate in their child's life with as little conflict as possible.

In this guide, we simplify the child arrangement process, providing clear and supportive insights to guide you through these important decisions..

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What are child arrangements?

Child arrangements are plans that determine how separated parents will care for and manage the upbringing of their children. These arrangements cover where the children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent, and the nature of contact they will have with both parents. The focus is on ensuring the children's needs are met, and their best interests are at the heart of any decision made.

What is child custody?

The term "child custody" is frequently used in discussions about the care and upbringing of children after parental separation.However, it's important to understand that in legal terms, "custody" no longer holds a specific, defined meaning.

The concept is often perceived as determining which parent has primary responsibility for the child. In practice, though, the focus has shifted towards more inclusive terms like "child arrangements," which better encapsulate the collaborative and comprehensive approach needed to address the wellbeing and interests of the child.

Your options for making child arrangements

When it comes to deciding on your child's arrangements after a separation or divorce, there are several options available. Understanding your choices can help you find the most appropriate and beneficial arrangement for both you and your child.

Family mediation

Family mediation involves an impartial mediator who assists you and your ex-partner in reaching an agreement about child arrangements. This method is often preferred for its focus on cooperation and communication, striving to find a solution that benefits everyone involved, especially the children.

Mediation is typically less confrontational and more cost-effective than court proceedings, helping preserve a positive co-parenting relationship. It's important to note that success in mediation relies on both parties' willingness to negotiate and compromise.

The process includes several sessions where you discuss various aspects of childcare and living arrangements, aiming to reach a consensus without the need for court intervention.

Solicitor negotiations

Solicitor negotiations involve hiring legal professionals who provide advice and represent your interests in negotiations over child arrangements. This option is particularly useful if your relationship with your ex-partner is strained or the circumstances are particularly complex. Solicitors will work to ensure that your rights are upheld and the children's best interests are at the forefront.

Unlike mediation, this approach provides legal representation and advocacy. However, it's often significantly more costly compared to mediation, and might take longer to reach an agreement.

It's distinct from court proceedings in that it still aims to find a mutual agreement outside of the courtroom, avoiding the stress and unpredictability of a court decision.

Court proceedings

Court proceedings should be considered a last resort, used only when other methods to reach an agreement have been exhausted. In this scenario, a judge will decide on the arrangement for a child based on their assessment of what is in the children's best interests. This process can be lengthy (currently, the average time for cases to be concluded at court is 47 weeks), stressful, and often more confrontational, affecting everyone involved, including the children.

The costs associated with going to court can be significant, and unlike solicitor negotiations or mediation, the final decision is made by the judge, not the parents.

This option is typically pursued in situations where an agreement cannot be reached through mediation or solicitor negotiations, or when there are serious concerns about the child's welfare that necessitate legal intervention.

What should child arrangements consider?

Child arrangements are designed to prioritise the welfare and best interests of the children involved. When formulating these arrangements, several key factors are taken into account to ensure that the children's needs are met and their lives remain as stable and positive as possible.

Agreeing where your children live

One of the most crucial aspects of child arrangements is whether a child will have their main home with one parent and, if so, deciding who that will be with.

This decision can be influenced by various factors like the children's ages, their schooling, the proximity to their social circles (like friends and extended family), and the practicality of maintaining their current lifestyle. The goal is to ensure a stable and nurturing environment that minimises disruption to the children's daily routines whilst maintaining healthy and happy relationships with both parents (where safe and appropriate).

Agreeing on child contact arrangements

It's important to establish a clear and consistent schedule for when and how the children will spend time with each parent.

This includes understanding what a weekly/ fortnightly (or other) routine might look like, holidays, and special occasions. The schedule should be flexible enough to accommodate the children's needs and evolving circumstances while providing them with a sense of stability and predictability.

Contact arrangements also consider the logistics of transportation and transitions between homes.

Agreeing on contact with your ex-partner

Effective communication between parents is essential for the smooth implementation of child custody arrangements. Deciding on the frequency and methods of communication (such as phone calls, emails, or in-person meetings) is important.

This ensures both parents are kept informed about the children’s well-being, educational progress, health issues, and other significant developments.

Constructive and respectful communication between ex-partners can significantly benefit the emotional and psychological well-being of the children.

Child arrangement orders

A Child Arrangement Order is a legally binding outcome that is made by the court, determining where a child should live, when they should spend time with each parent, and other specifics regarding their upbringing.

This order becomes necessary when parents are unable to mutually agree on these aspects, often after attempts at mediation or discussions through solicitors have been unsuccessful. Let’s delve into the steps involved in acquiring a Child Arrangement Order.

1. Making an application

To initiate the process, you need to complete a C100 form, the standard form used to apply for a Child Arrangement Order. This form requires detailed information about the children, the nature of your current arrangement, and the specifics of the arrangement you are seeking.

It’s important to provide a clear and concise explanation of why this order is in the child’s best interests. Once completed, this form is submitted to the court, along with a fee (unless you qualify for an exemption).

2. Attending a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM)

Before proceeding with the court application, you’re generally required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This meeting, conducted by an accredited mediator, assesses whether your case can be resolved through mediation instead of going to court. The goal is to encourage a resolution that doesn’t involve litigation, which can be less adversarial and more cost-effective. However, in certain cases like those involving domestic violence, this step might be bypassed.

3. First hearing

If mediation is unsuccessful or deemed inappropriate, the case proceeds to the first court hearing, known as the ‘First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment’ (FHDRA). During this hearing, the judge will try to identify the areas of agreement and disagreement and may give directions on how the case should proceed. This might include ordering reports from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) or setting a timetable for future hearings. A Judge may issue an interim Child Arrangements Order.

4. Dispute Resolution Appointment

The second stage in proceedings is usually a Dispute Resolution Appointment. Prior to this hearing, you will typically be asked to provide statements setting out what you feel will be best for your child/children and file these with the Court. It is possible that CAFCASS will also provide a report with their recommendations about what they feel will be best for the child/ children together with a report on what the child/ children’s wishes and feelings are.

5. Final hearing

If the case cannot be resolved in the earlier stages, it proceeds to a final hearing. Here, the court considers all the evidence, including reports, witness statements, and any other relevant documentation. Both parents, and sometimes the children, may be asked to provide evidence. After considering all the information, the judge will make a decision and issue a Child Arrangement Order.

What do the courts consider in child arrangement cases?

When a court is tasked with making decisions regarding a child arrangements, it adheres to a set of guiding principles and considerations, all centred around the child's welfare and best interests.

The court's primary concern is to ensure that the child's needs are met and their rights are protected. Here are the key factors that courts typically consider:

The child’s welfare

The concept of the child's welfare encompasses a broad range of factors that contribute to the overall well-being of the child. This principle is not limited to physical health but includes the emotional and psychological stability of the child. The court examines the living conditions, the nurturing environment provided by the parents, and the kind of lifestyle that the child will lead under each proposed arrangement.

It also considers the child’s happiness and overall quality of life. This means evaluating the potential for a loving, stable, and secure environment in each parent's home. The goal is to ensure that the child grows up in an atmosphere where they can thrive, feel valued, and develop into a well-rounded individual.

The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs

When assessing the child's physical, emotional, and educational needs, the court takes a holistic view of the child's development.

Physical needs: This includes basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare, but also extends to the physical safety and comfort of the child. The court looks at how each parent can provide for these needs, including the suitability of their living accommodations and their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the child.

Emotional needs: Emotional well-being is crucial in a child’s development. The court examines the support systems in place, the emotional bonds the child has with each parent, and the stability of the home environment. Factors like the parents' ability to provide love, understanding, and emotional support, as well as their capacity to manage and support the child's mental health and resilience, are considered.

Educational needs: Education plays a pivotal role in a child’s growth. The court considers how each arrangement would affect the child’s learning and educational progress. This includes not just formal education but also the broader developmental opportunities that each parent can provide, such as exposure to cultural, social, and recreational activities that contribute to the child's intellectual and social development.

Varying a child arrangement order

Varying a Child Arrangement Order involves making changes to an existing court order regarding the care and living arrangements of a child. This process is usually undertaken when there has been a significant change in circumstances that necessitates an adjustment to the existing arrangements. Here's an overview of the process:

Identifying the need for variation

The first step is recognising that the current custody arrangements are no longer suitable or in the best interests of the child. This could be due to various reasons such as changes in the child's needs, relocation of a parent, changes in a parent’s work schedule, or other significant life events.

Attempt to reach an agreement outside of court

Before applying to the court, it's often encouraged that the parties involved try to reach a new agreement amicably, possibly with the help of mediation. If a new agreement is reached, it can be formalised without involving the court.

Applying to the court

If an agreement can't be reached, or if one party believes it's necessary to involve the court, an application must be made to vary the existing order. This involves filling out the appropriate forms (usually a C100 form in England and Wales), explaining the reasons for the requested changes, and demonstrating how the proposed variation serves the child's best interests.

Court process

The court will then consider the application, taking into account the child's welfare as the paramount consideration. Just like with the original order, the court will review all relevant factors including the child's needs, the potential impact of the change, and any risks of harm. The court may request additional evidence or reports to understand the situation better.

Issuing a revised order

If the court is satisfied that changing the order is in the child’s best interests, it will issue a revised Child Arrangement Order. This new order will replace the previous one and will set out the new terms for the child’s living and contact arrangements.

The cost of sorting a child arrangement order

Sorting out a Child Arrangement Order can vary significantly in cost, depending largely on whether the process involves solicitors and court proceedings or is resolved through mediation.

Cost of using a solicitor

The cost of using a solicitor for child arrangement negotiations can be significant, as it involves paying for professional legal advice and representation. Solicitors typically charge an hourly rate, and the total cost will depend on the complexity of your case and the length of time required to reach an agreement. Fees can range from several hundred to several thousand pounds. Some solicitors may offer fixed-fee packages for certain services. It's important to discuss and understand the fee structure upfront. Additional costs may include expenses for any required documentation or court fees if the case progresses to a legal hearing.

Cost of court proceedings

Court proceedings are generally more expensive than other methods of resolving child arrangements. Costs include court fees, and, if you have legal representation, solicitor and barrister fees will add to the total cost. These legal fees can be substantial, especially in prolonged or complex cases. It's also important to consider indirect costs, such as time taken off work for court appearances. Legal aid might be available in some circumstances, particularly in cases involving domestic abuse or where a child is at risk.

Cost of family mediation

Mediation is often the least expensive option for resolving child arrangement issues. Mediators charge either an hourly rate or a fixed fee for a series of sessions. The total cost of mediation depends on the number of sessions required to reach an agreement.

Typically, the cost of mediation is lower than solicitor negotiations or court proceedings, as the process is generally quicker and less formal.

In certain cases, legal aid may be available to cover the cost of mediation. If legal aid is available, this covers all of the costs of mediation for the person that is eligible and it also means that the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and first mediation session are free for the other party.

There is also the option of obtaining a £500 (inclusive of VAT) contribution towards the costs of mediation via the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme.

Mediation fees are usually shared between both parties, making it a cost-effective solution for many separating couples.

Mediation costs vary on a case by case basis, for more information you can contact our expert team and find out how much mediation may cost for your specific circumstance.

Can my child have a say in the process?

When navigating child custody arrangement processes, it's essential to understand and respect the role of your child's voice.

Child-inclusive mediation perhaps provides the most direct avenue for children to express their views, actively involving them in the conversation in a manner that's both respectful and considerate of their well-being. This method allows children to speak with a trained mediator, ensuring their feelings and thoughts are part of the mediation discussions.

Through the mediator asking the child questions about their thoughts and feelings, it empowers children to feel heard and considered, while also ensuring that their input is balanced with the overall objective of achieving the best outcome for their wellbeing.


Navigating child arrangements, whether through solicitor negotiations, court proceedings, or family mediation, can often seem daunting, but it is fundamentally about prioritising your child's best interests. Each method, while different in approach, aims to ensure that the emotional and practical needs of your child are at the heart of every decision.

Consider Mediation First for child arrangement agreements

For expert guidance and support in this journey, consider Mediation First. Our team specialises in family mediation, including child-inclusive mediation, to help you find amicable and child-focused solutions.

Contact our expert team for a supportive and professional approach to your child arrangement needs. Together, we can work towards the best possible outcome for your family.

Get in touch using our online form, or contact us by phone or email:

Tel: 0330 320 7600
Email: office@mediationfirst.co.uk.

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