Children and Separation - What do all the terms mean - The Law House Family Law Solicitors, London & Peterborough

Children and Separation – What do all the terms mean


I am confused by all the terminology

When parents separate, there is often disagreement about whether children should live, when they should see the other parent, or what rights the parents have with gard to decision-making. These rights are dealt with by legislation and can be confusing.

Child arrangement order (CAO)

A CAO is a wide-ranging order which can set out where a child will live, how much time they will spend with both parents and how much time they will spend with other relatives. Although it is now called a CAO, most people still use terminology such as custody and access. Custody is now referred to as residence, and access is referred to as contact. Due to a recent change in legislation, even residence and contact are no longer used but you may see reference to them in the CAO.

When a court considers what type of arrangement is required, it takes various factors into account including the child’s age and preferences, the current situation of both parents, the child’s schooling requirements and so on. If the arrangements cannot be agreed, the court may appoint an independent officer, known as a CAFCASS officer, to prepare a report and make a recommendation to the court. To prepare the report, the officer will speak to both parents and is likely to also speak to the children, as well as liaising with the school and possibly the GP. At the end of their report, the officer will usually make a recommendation about the arrangements for the child.

Under the umbrella of the CAO, the court can decide which parent the child should live with or whether the child’s care should be divided between the parents. If it is to be divided, the court will consider how the time should be divided between each parent. Once that decision is made, the court will also consider how often the child should see the other parent. Obviously, each family’s situation is different but often, a judge may consider it reasonable for a parent to have contact on alternative weekends and for one half of all school holidays. In addition, there would be telephone contact in the intervening period between each contact visit. The court will also make use of such facilities as Skype or FaceTime.

Parental responsibility

In summary, parental responsibility allows the parent to have an input in the major decisions relating to a child, such as religious upbringing, the school they should attend and the type of medical treatment they should receive. Where both parties’ names are recorded on a birth certificate at the time the child is born, parental responsibility is automatically granted to both parents. If the father’s name is not included in the birth certificate and he was not married to the mother at the time of the birth, then he does not automatically have parental responsibility. If this is the case, he should try and reach an agreement with the mother and in the absence of this, he may have to make anapplication to the court for parental responsibility.

Specific issue order

This type of order is made where there is a dispute about a major decision relating to a child and which cannot be resolved by the parents. For example, the court would make this order if it needed to decide which school the child should attend or whether the child should have a specific type of medical treatment.

Prohibited steps order

This type of order is made to prevent one of the parents from taking a particular course of action. For example, a common reason for making an order is to prevent one parent from removing a child from this jurisdiction. Because of the nature of this order, it can often be made on an emergency basis.