So I get asked occasionally how long a Child Arrangements Order lasts and when it lapses. It’s come up twice in a month now so this time I remembered where to look it up and thought I’d write a blog post on it. I thought it was easy, but actually it’s not.
You need to look at s91(10), s91(10A) and s91(11) of the Children Act 1989. Irritatingly s10A is not yet up on the legislation.gov.uk website so I’ll set it out in full :
10 A section 8 order [this includes a child arrangements order] shall, if it would otherwise still be in force, cease to have effect when the child reaches the age of sixteen, unless it is to have effect beyond that age by virtue of section 9(6).
10A Subsection 10 does not apply to provision in a child arrangements order which regulates arrangements relating to –
(a) with whom a child is to live, or
(b) when a child is to live with any person.
11 Where a section 8 order has effect with respect to a child who has reached the age of sixteen, it shall, if it would otherwise still be in force, cease to have effect when he reaches the age of eighteen.
Section 9(6) is referred to there. This says :
No court shall make a section 8 order which is to have effect for a period which will end after the child has reached the age of sixteen unless it is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional.
But then section 9(6A) (no doubt also not on legislation.gov.uk) says this :
Subsection (6) does not apply to a child arrangements order to which subsection 6B applies.
You got it. We need to look at subsection (6B) :
This subsection applies to a child arrangements order if the arrangements regulated by the order relate only to either or both of the following –
(a) with whom the child concerned is to live, and
(b) when the child is to live with any person
Also, don’t forget section 9(7) :
No court shall make any section 8 order…with respect to a child who has reached the age of sixteen unless it is satisfied that the circumstances of the child are exceptional.
So, what does this boil down to?
- Courts usually don’t make a child arrangements order once a child has turned 16.
- A child arrangements order for contact usually lapses automatically when a child turns 16. This includes a child arrangements order which does not have an end date on it.
- A child arrangements order which only says where a child should live and when will continue until a child is 18 unless the order says something different or the court decides to end it.
- The position where a child arrangements order says where a child is to live and when AND spells out contact arrangements seems a bit odd. My view is that it usually lapses automatically when a child turns 16. This includes a child arrangements order which does not have an end date on it.
The reason I say it is a bit odd is this : s9(6) disapplies the exceptional circumstances requirement in some cases – but it refers to orders which ONLY regulates “living with” arrangements. Yet s91(10A), which also disapplies the exceptional circumstances rule seems to refer to a wider class of orders, i.e. all those which INCLUDE “living with” arrangements (which will include a large number of mixed “living with” and “contact” orders. There is a bit of a logic loop here and I can’t crack it, but some bright spark will tell me the answer in comments. These amendments were both inserted by the Children & Families Act 2014 (schedule 2) and it is possible there is a drafting error.