In this section we explain who can apply for this kind of court order, how you apply, what forms you must fill in and what happens next.
Before you apply
You must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before you can apply for a court order about the arrangements for your children – unless you fall into the limited circumstances that mean you don’t have to attend. At this meeting a mediator will explain the services available to help you and your ex reach an agreement. For more information about Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings, see: Before you can go to court (child arrangements).
Who can apply?
Some people are entitled to apply for child arrangements orders; others need the court’s permission first. If you are the child’s mother or father you are entitled to apply. You can also apply if you are a step parent and you have treated the child as your child. A step parent is someone who is married to or the civil partner of a parent who has parental responsibility for the child. Other people, such as grandparents, will generally need the court’s permission to apply for a court order unless the child has already lived with them for at least 3 years.
For more information about who needs permission to apply, see section C of court leaflet CB1: Making an application - children and the family courts
If you are the person who starts the proceedings, you are called the ‘applicant’. If you are the other party, you are called the ‘respondent’.
Where do I start?
The Child Arrangements Programme (you may hear lawyers and court staff call it the ‘CAP’) sets out the process for dealing with applications for child arrangements orders - what happens if you have a dispute with your ex or another family member about your child or children. It is designed to help you reach an agreement, where possible without going to court. You can find the Child Arrangements Programme here: Child arrangements programme
For an overview of what happens in practice, have a look at this short film about making your application to court: Making your application to court
This link takes you to the Ministry of Justice Youtube channel. Scroll down and click on 'Making your application to court' - video guidance for separating parents making an application to a court.
How do I apply for an order about the arrangements for my children?
If there is no court case already going on about your children then you apply for a court order by completing Form C100 (see Forms and rules below). There is a checklist and information notes at the back of the form to help you complete it. It is important that you provide all the information the form asks you for including details of your ex's name, date of birth and current and past addresses for the last 5 years.
If you don’t want the respondent to know your contact details (your address, telephone number, email address) or the contact details of your child or children, leave the space on the form where it asks for your address blank and complete the confidential contact details form C8 instead (see Forms and rules below). Form C8 is just for the court – so they know where you are and how to get hold of you. The information you give on it will be kept secret unless the court orders differently.
If there already is a court case going on about your children and you are not yet involved in those proceedings but want to be (perhaps, for example, you are the child’s father and the proceedings are between the child’s mother and step father), or you need the court’s permission to start proceedings, then complete Form C2 (see Forms and rules below).
You can fill in these forms either online (in which case if you don’t complete a form all at one go, you can save what you have done and go back to it later) or by hand.
Once you have identified the right forms for your case, filled them in and checked you have not missed anything out, sign and date them as necessary and make enough copies to take or send to the court. You will need one copy for the court, one copy for Cafcass or (if you live in Wales) CAFCASS Cymru and one for each respondent. You will also want a copy for yourself to keep. Then take or send the forms to the court office with the correct number of copies and the court fee if you have to pay one. You may hear lawyers and court staff use the words ‘lodging’ or ‘filing’. This refers to taking or sending forms or other documents to a court. So if someone asks you to ‘lodge’ a copy of form x or court order y or report z, they are asking you to take it or send it to the court office.
Forms and rules
You can find form C100 here: Application form for a child arrangements, prohibited steps or specific issue order (C100) There is a checklist and information notes at the back to help you complete the firm fully.
You can find form C2 here: Form C2
You can find form C1A here: Form C1A
The Confidential contact details form (Form C8) is here: Form C8 - Confidential contact details
For more information about making an application, see court leaflet CB1: Making an application - children and the family courts
For more information about the court process, see court leaflet CB7: Guide for separated parents: children and the family courts (CB7)
What do I do if my case is urgent?
Everyone tends to think their own case is urgent but as far as courts are concerned only a very few cases really are.
The court will only treat a case as urgent if there is a risk to the life, liberty or physical safety of you or your family, a risk to your home, or any delay would cause:
- a risk of harm to your child;
- a risk your child might be removed unlawfully from the UK;
- a significant risk of a miscarriage of justice;
- you to suffer unreasonable hardship; or
- problems in dealing with the dispute that could not be fixed later (for example, the loss of significant evidence).
Normally the court will not make any decisions without hearing from both you and your ex (or other family member) whenever possible. If your case is urgent, the court may, exceptionally, be prepared to make an order without first telling your ex about the hearing or giving them a chance to have their say. The law calls this ‘without notice’.
But the court will only do this if:
- giving notice would allow your ex the time to take steps to defeat the purpose of the order, or
- it is so urgent that there has been literally no time to give notice even by telephone, text or e-mail, or
- giving notice would expose you or your child to an unnecessary risk of physical or emotional harm.
The court might accept that your case is urgent but still want to give your ex an opportunity to have their say. If so, the court might wait for short while so that your ex (or whoever the respondent is) can be given a chance to come to the hearing. There may not be time to give them the amount of warning usually required (you may hear this called ‘full notice’) and so the court may shorten the time period.
If the court does make an order without notice, it will arrange a further hearing to give your ex (or other family member) a chance to have their say. If you are not the applicant and you were not given notice of a hearing, you have the right to ask the court to reconsider the order it made. You must do this straight away by writing to the court. You must also tell the applicant that you have asked the court to reconsider the order.
You apply for an urgent hearing by ticking the box on Form C100 against the question: Is an urgent hearing or without notice hearing required? You must also complete the relevant sections of the form explaining the urgency and claiming exemption from attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting.
You can find a court leaflet about urgent cases here: Urgent and without notice hearings in relation to child arrangements - CB2 (PDF)
Domestic abuse, violence or harm
If you or any of your children have suffered or are at risk of suffering domestic abuse, violence or harm then you should also complete the supplemental information form C1A (see Forms and rules above) The form is called ‘Allegations of harm and domestic violence’. An allegation is a claim that someone has done something wrong. The form asks for details about the kind of abuse that you or the children have experienced and what happened. This is also the form to fill in if you think your child is at risk of being taken away from you by force or by tricking you (abduction).
The phrase ‘domestic abuse’ includes a wide range of behaviour including controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour as well as violence or abuse. Controlling behaviour, for example, is when someone:
- isolates you from the people or things you rely on for support,
- deprives you of your ability to be independent, resist control or escape from a relationship,
- makes rules about what you can and can’t do in your everyday life.
Coercive behaviour is assaults, threats, humiliation or intimidation used to harm, punish or frighten you. Abuse can be psychological, physical, sexual, emotional or financial.
You can find the court rules about domestic violence and harm in cases about making arrangements for childre here: Practice direction 12J - Child arrangements orders: domestic violence and harm
Special arrangements at court
If your case goes to court, will you need:
- An interpreter?
- Special help or facilities because you have a disability - for example, a loop or signer?
- Arrangements made to help keep you safe? For example, a separate waiting room, a video link or screens to shield you from the respondent when you give information and answer questions in person at court (the law calls this ‘giving evidence’).
If you do, make sure you tell the court in the relevant section of forms C100 or C2. The court should contact you to find out more about your specific needs.
Checklist for starting (issuing) an application for a child arrangements order
- Identify the right forms for your case (C100 or C2? +C1A? +C8?)
- Read them through to find out what information they ask for
- Collect any information you need, for example, a copy of a previous court order about your child or children, previous addresses in the last 5 years.
- Answer all the questions that apply to you.
- Fill in your contact details correctly.
- Sign and date the form (if necessary).
- Work out how many copies of the completed forms you need. If you are not sure, ask the court office.
- Attach any Parenting Plan you have completed in the past or any summary of the progress you are making with producing a Parenting Plan.
- Make the required number of copies of the completed forms.
- Copy any previous court orders about your children.
- Attach the correct court fee or completed form EX160 applying for help with fees to your application.
- Send or take your application and other documents together with the correct number of copies to the family court.
What happens next?
Once the court has your application, it checks you have filled in the forms correctly, that you have attended a MIAM (or that you are entitled to claim an exemption from attending) and included all other relevant documents. If you have, it will officially start your case (issue your application) and give your application a case number. You will know whether you have started your case successfully when the court sends you a Notice of proceedings. This tells you when and where your first meeting (hearing) with a judge will take place. This date is usually about 4-6 weeks ahead.
The court sends a copy of your application to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service - for further information see: The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru).
Who do I have to tell about my application?
There are certain people who have to be given a copy of your application. Anyone in this position is called a ‘Respondent’. To work out who needs to be told in your case, check out sections H and I in court leaflet CB1: Making an application - children and the family courts If you are not sure who should be a respondent, phone the court office and ask.
If you want to see the court rules about who you have to tell, you can them here: Practice direction 12C – Service of application in certain proceedings relating to children
Who sends my application to the people who need to see it?
The process of getting your application to the people who must see it or notifying those who must know about your application but don’t usually get to see a copy of it is called ‘service’.
The court will take care of sending your application to the people who need to know about it, unless you want to do this. Usually, this will be your ex (or other family member involved in the dispute) and Cafcass (or CAFCASS Cymru).