Contact Order

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The definition ‘contact order’ was removed in April 2014 from the Children Act 1989 and replaced with the Child Arrangements Order (CAO).

The Child Arrangements Order settles:

  • with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with, and
  • when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person

The phrase ‘is to live’ is equivalent to a residence order. The definition ‘spend time’ is the equivalent of a contact order. So it is important when you are in front of the Judge or negotiating with the other parent to understand what the new terminology means.

A contact order required the person with whom the child lives (primary carer) to allow the child to visit or stay (staying contact) with a named person or for that child to have contact in some other manner e.g. indirect contact (telephone calls, letters etc) with that person.

The parent who the child may primarily live with may or may not have a residence order, it is not necessary to decide residence to have a contact order. To clarify this important point; there does not have to be a residence order in place for the court to make a contact order, more often than not courts will make a contact order but leave the issue of residence to one side.

Contact order’s range from a minimal amount of visiting, staying or merely indirect contact to substantial staying time with the a parent or other, even up to an equal or near equal share of the care of children in some cases. These orders can be very detailed at times setting out as much of the arrangements for contact as necessary to avoid misunderstandings or if there is some degree of cooperation then they may just set out the overall aim of the order.

Many contact orders are by consent and recorded as such; where the parties have agreed, many times with the assistance, pressure and guidance from the court and their own advisors a compromise which they can both be relatively satisfied with either in the interim or for the long-term is reached.

If there is no agreement on all or some of the issues then the court will make orders as it sees proper in the circumstances but it usually tries hard to get the parents to agree if at all possible. The thinking often is that agreed orders by consent are more likely to continue than those imposed on the parties, not always the case of course.

The terminology of contact and residence is loaded as are many of the words used in family law and thankfully the government is considering moving away from such terms and far more neutral words such as shared parenting orders and parenting arrangements are a real possibility.