Usually it’s the parents who ask family courts to decide the living and care arrangements for children when they are unable to agree matters between themselves. But academic research in 2023 funded by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory – the group geared toward filling gaps in our understanding of the family justice system – revealed that at least 10% of child arrangement applications are now made by non-parents.
The researchers examined private child arrangement applications (i.e. where the local authority was not involved) made by non-parents between 2017 and 2021. We outline the results of the study below, look at what orders can be applied for by non-parents, and highlight a significant hurdle many non-parents encounter when they wish to make these types of applications.
What Are Child Arrangement Proceedings?
Child Arrangements Orders replaced Contact Orders and Residence Orders in 2014. Effectively Child Arrangement Orders enable the courts to regulate arrangements relating to who the child will live with, spend time with or otherwise have contact. Orders will typically spell out contact a child is to have with ‘any person’ – so they are not just made in favour of a parent.
Applications are made using Form C100 by parents and other family members – again, only where agreement cannot be reached. Applications involving non-parents are known as non-standard applications and are brought by:
- Aunts and uncles
- Special guardians
- Foster carers
Non-standard applications include applications where the parent is one of the parties.
What Did The Study Reveal About Child Arrangement Applications Involving Non-Parents?
The Nuffield study highlighted several key findings
- During the four years studied (2017-2021) there were approximately 5,500 cases brought by non-parents. This equated to 10% of all private child arrangements cases during the period
- While over 50% of applications were for Child Arrangement Orders, cases also involved applications for other orders such as parental responsibility orders, special guardianship orders and adoption orders
- A wide range of non-parents were involved in proceedings, including grandparents, step-parents, foster carers, special guardians and intended parents. Of this group grandparents made around 60% of all applications
- Around three-quarters (72%) of non-standard applications involved a single child – a greater proportion than in standard applications (59%)
- On average, children in non-standard applications were slightly older than those in standard applications, and a greater proportion were over 10 years old
How Do Non-parents Apply For Child Arrangement Orders?
Parents, step-parents and anyone named in an existing Child Arrangements Order can automatically apply for an order. Grandparents and other non-parents however must first obtain the permission of the court to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order. The courts at this initial stage will consider:
- The nature of the proposed application for the Order
- The applicant’s connection with the child
- Any risk there might be that the proposed application might disrupt the child’s life to such an extent that he or she would be harmed by it
The authors of the report highlight the fact that these private child arrangement proceedings involve thousands of people and potentially high levels of need and complexity. Nevertheless moves to reform family law appear to concentrate exclusively on separating parents, overlooking the needs of this wider group of families. The hope is that this report will promote useful discussions and help family lawyers and policymakers to focus on how best to meet the needs of families.
A great deal of uncertainty attaches to non-parent applications for Child Arrangements Orders. This, coupled with the obstacles most non-parents must navigate before they are even able to make an application, mean it’s important to seek legal advice on your options before embarking on uncertain and sometimes expensive court proceedings.