A child arrangement order (CAO) is a court order that determines who a child lives with, spends time with or has contact with. The order will also specify times and places of contact, if necessary.

It is necessary to apply for a CAO if an agreement as to who the child lives with, spends time with or has contact with cannot be reached. The court will then make a decision after hearing everyone’s opinions and assertions. It is usual for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to be involved in such matters. A Cafcass representative will speak to the children and parents and make their recommendations to the court.

A CAO that specifies contact arrangements means the person with whom the children live must allow the child to stay, visit or have contact with the person named in the order. The order will set out when the child is to spend time or have contact with the person named in the order. The court may impose penalties if the order is not complied with.

The court can regulate a child’s living arrangements by making any of the following CAOs:

  • Naming one person with whom the child is to live.
  • Naming two people who live in the same household together as persons with whom the child is to live. These CAOs are usually made in favour of a child’s parent and stepparent.
  • Naming two people who live in different households as persons with whom the child is to live. The CAO will specify the time that the child will live in each household. This allows a child to live with both parents in their respective households following separation. The division of the child’s time between each household need not be equal.

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