Family & Divorce
How long does it take to get a child arrangement order
Read our guide and learn about the typical time frame for obtaining a child arrangement order and find tips to speed up the process and minimise delays.
A child arrangement order can take anything from 6 months to 2 years depending on whether you settle the case part way through, how many court hearings you need and if you need a final hearing.
What is a child arrangement order?
A court order setting out arrangements for where your child will live and how much time they spend with the other parent.
Factors that may affect duration of child arrangement order
Complexity of the case
If there are allegations of domestic abuse or drug use, there may need to be a fact-finding hearing to establish if the allegations are true. The case might need to involve more than just the child’s parents, such as grandparents and stepparents.
Need for additional evidence
Police records, medical records, Statements and schedules summarising allegations may be needed if there is a fact-finding hearing. If there are other issues that might affect the child, such as drug or alcohol abuse, the court is likely to ask for testing before the case can go further. If there are concerns about mental health the court might ask for medical records or a medical report. Cafcass or social services can be asked to prepare a report about the children’s wishes and feelings and/or with recommendations on the final child arrangements. This is called a section 7 report.
Cooperation of parties involved
As long as your children’s welfare is not considered to be at risk, the court will encourage parents to agree arrangements at each step of the court process right up to the final hearing. The sooner parents agree, the quicker it is to get a child arrangements order.
Urgency of case
If the children are at significant risk the first court hearing can take place in a matter of days or even, in extreme cases, immediately without the other parent being at court. If there is an urgent hearing or the other parent was not given the chance to attend the first hearing, there will always be another hearing so that both parents can make their case to the court and the court can consider what additional evidence or court hearings are needed before a final decision is made.
What is the typical timeframe?
At present it is difficult to give an accurate time estimate because the courts are still playing pandemic catch up, please don’t think these estimates are the hard and fast time scales, they are subject to change.
If there is a backlog in the courts, you are unlikely to get your first court hearing for at least five – six months. Sometimes, the court decides on paper what should happen next, for example, that they need a section 7 report, and you will not have your first hearing until the report has been done. Section 7 reports can take up to three months.
Fact finding hearings take up a lot of court time so you might have to wait another six months or more for a hearing date. A fact-finding hearing will not necessarily deal with child arrangements so you will need another hearing and that could take another five to six months. Final hearings also take up a lot of court time so if you cannot agree arrangements before then, you could be waiting more than six months for a final hearing.
If you can agree arrangements, known as a FHRDA first hearing dispute resolution appointment, your case might only take five – six months.
If you need further evidence before you can negotiate arrangements, the court at the FHDRA will make directions for that evidence. Once that evidence is available you might be able to reach an agreement and settle at the second court hearing known as a DRA dispute resolution appointment. This is likely to take around 12 months altogether.
If arrangements are disputed right to the end and you need a final hearing to decide matters it could take 18 months – 2 years.
Sally Ward, Head of our Family team, has some tips on minimising delays:
Tips for minimising delays
Work with an experienced solicitor
They will know how the court approaches child arrangements and deals with various arguments that parents commonly raise. This will avoid wasting time and costs over arguments that are unlikely to go anywhere or that could go against you.
Attend all court hearings
If you do not attend a hearing a decision could be made against you or the hearing could be rescheduled to a later date adding to the time and cost of your case.
Any delays are likely to lead to a delay in finalising arrangements for your children. Delays are not good for children as they continue to get caught up in their parents’ arguments and they need a clear idea of what the arrangements for them are going to be.
Consider a consent order
A consent order is an order made by agreement. It will bring an end to court proceedings without leaving a judge or magistrate to decide the arrangements for you. As parents, you know your children better that a judge or magistrate, take a step back from any issues you have with the other parent and think about what would really be in your children’ s best interests as this will usually be a better outcome for them than something that a judge decides.
Contact our family team if you wish to discuss any of the issues raised, you can call us on 01708 784000.