What is Child Arrangement Order? Complete Guide

What is a Child Arrangement Order (CAO)?

A Child Arrangement Order (CAO) is a legally binding agreement made in court that sets out how your children will spend time with each parent after separation. It replaces the older terms “residence order” (where the child lives) and “contact order” (how often they see the other parent).

Think of it as a roadmap that ensures clear communication and avoids confusion about your child’s living arrangements.

Here’s what a Child Arrangement Order can help you achieve:

  • Clarity and Stability: A CAO provides a clear structure for your child’s living situation, promoting stability and routine.
  • Reduced Conflict: Having a formal agreement can minimise arguments and disagreements about childcare arrangements.
  • Child’s Best Interests: The court prioritises your child’s well-being when creating a CAO.

Legality of a Child Arrangement Order

A CAO is a legally binding agreement. This means both parents must stick to the arrangements outlined in the order. If one parent breaches the order, the other parent can take legal action to enforce it.

Types of Child Arrangement Orders

There’s no “one size fits all” approach. Here are some common arrangements:

  • Living with one parent: The child lives primarily with one parent and spends set times with the other.
  • Shared residence: The child splits their time between both parents’ homes.
  • Indirect contact: Contact happens through phone calls, video chats, or letters if direct contact isn’t possible.

Who Can Apply for a CAO?

Child Arrangements Orders fall under the category of family law court orders. Any parent, guardian, or person with a significant interest in the child’s welfare can apply for a CAO. This includes stepparents, grandparents, or other family members who play an important role in the child’s life and well-being. The court will consider what is in the best interests of the child when determining whether to grant the order.

How to Apply for a Child Arrangement Order?

The process for applying for a CAO can be complex. Here’s a simplified overview:

  • Gather information: Compile details about your child’s current living situation, desired arrangements, and any communication issues.
  • Consider mediation: If you haven’t explored mediation, this may be recommended before applying to court.
  • Complete the C100 form: This is the application form for a CAO. Legal guidance can help ensure you complete it correctly.
  • Submit the application: File the completed form at your local family court.
  • Court proceedings: The court may request a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) or a CAO hearing.

What Happens if a Parent Breaches the CAO?

Breaching a Child Arrangements Order by failing to comply with its terms can result in serious consequences. If a parent breaches the CAO, the other parent can apply to the court to enforce the order. This may involve penalties or further hearings.

Cost of a Child Arrangment Order in the UK

The cost of obtaining a CAO can vary depending on various factors, including legal fees, court fees, and additional expenses associated with the application process. To apply for the order, you must pay the court fee of £237, unless you qualify for an exemption. You also need to consider the fees charged by your solicitor. While you don’t need a solicitor, it’s wise to get advice from an experienced family lawyer because family law can be complex. You can also seek help from our qualified McKenzie Friends, who provide affordable support during this process.

Duration of a Child Arrangements Order

A CAO typically remains in place until your child turns 16, regarding contact arrangements. The “live with” element usually remains valid until they reach 18. Enforcement beyond 16 is uncommon unless exceptional circumstances exist.

It is essential to review the terms of the CAO periodically and seek legal advice if modifications or extensions are necessary.

How McKenzie Friend Services Can Help?

Applying for a Child Arrangement Order in the UK can be stressful and expensive. Here at McKenzie Friend Service, we can provide affordable assistance throughout the process. We’re a cheaper alternative to hiring a solicitor, offering support and guidance to help you reach a fair and workable agreement for your children.


  • A CAO prioritises your child’s well-being.
  • Seek legal advice if needed.
  • We at McKenzie Friend Service can help navigate the process affordably.

If you need help filling out a C100 form for your child arrangement case or require assistance in any way, please reach out to us. Submit a form or call us at 0121 582 2499. We’re here to support you.

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