What does a residence order mean?

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a residence order?
  3. The `features’ of a residence order.
  4. What they don’t do.
  5. What is the point of a residence order?
  6. The alternatives.


Separated parents put a lot of time, money and effort into getting a residence order for their children. Many of them see it as very important to get one.

But the odd thing?

Most of the people who want one (or have them) don’t know what having it actually means. It’s an odd situation – wanting something badly enough to go to court for it but not actually knowing what they do. It’s like wanting the latest phone and being willing to pay huge amounts of cash for it without having a clue what features it offers or if you’re even ever going to need them.

So with this analogy explained…let’s dive into what a residence order actually means when it comes to real life.

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What is a residence order?

Before we go any further I need to tell you they’re not officially called residence orders any more. That said – the term is commonly still in use. But the concept of a residence parent is still a thing, legally, speaking.

Currently it’s all about Child Arrangements Orders (CAO). These orders can (but don’t have to) contain one or more of the following components:

The component that replaces residence orders is often known as a `lives with’ order. But they mean exactly the same thing.

The change in the names was an attempt to do away with the all-too-common situation of parents fighting over the title of `resident parent’. But the sad fact is that it was window dressing: The system didn’t change with the names. And as I’ve already said, the term `resident parent’ is both still extremely common and something much sought after by parents going through the court system.

Is having a residence order just a big badge?For this blog I’m going to refer to them as `residence order’ because it is less clunky than a `lives with’ order or `Child Arrangements Order’. As I say however – they’re the same thing and any court hearing you say them will understand what you mean.

One final thing: A resident parent and a primary carer aren’t the same thing. For someone to be the former they need an order that says they are. The latter is just a practical thing – whoever cares for the children the majority of the time is the primary carer. The same person is often both the resident parent and the primary carer…but being one doesn’t automatically give you the other.

To make things even more confusing – many people think that residence and custody are the same thing. They’re not. This is an entirely different thing.

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The `features’ of a residence order

If you are considering asking a court for a residence order you should know what it is actually going to mean when it comes to parenting your child alongside your ex partner.

At this point I’m going to point out that they’re not officially called residence orders any more.

Because if it doesn’t do the things you want it to there is no point in having one.

A residence order does the following:

  • It’s an official recognition of where a child lives.
  • It allows the resident parent to travel abroad with the consent of the non resident parent.
  • It allows the resident parent to authorise (or prohibit) the non resident parent from travelling abroad with the children.

That’s it. It’s almost far less than what you imagined (or have been told even by your solicitor, friends or family members).

Say this and you’ll get a few people who will almost certainly quote the myths which I’m going to dive into below.

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What they don’t

The list of what a residence order does is pretty thin. Logically, this means what it doesn’t do is…well…just about anything else. Things residence order doesn’t do includes:

  • Being able to make every decision about the children unilaterally (including things like education, health, etc.)
  • Being free to move anywhere you like with the children.
  • Being able to call the police to collect the children if the non resident parent doesn’t return them.
  • Awarding PR for your children to anyone you like.
  • Stopping or starting contact when you feel like it.
  • Imposing conditions on the non resident parent.

Some of those powers can be given to a parent. It can and does happen. But that involves additional orders within a Child Arrangements Order. But a residence order on it’s own…? No.

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What is the point of a residence order?

It’s a good question. I sometimes struggle to understand why people are so preoccupied with getting them.

I think it may because they think it does give them some of the powers I’ve detailed above. Certainly enough of them are happy to argue the toss and state confidently that it does. Other responses I get include `Why didn’t my solicitor tell me this?’, `If I’d known this before I wouldn’t have bothered fighting through the courts getting one’ and `What is the point of a residence order?’

Here are some of the reasons I think residence orders are a thing:

  1. They want it `on record’ that their child lives with them (and not their ex).
  2. They think it gives them powers it doesn’t (see above).
  3. They think it’ll help them when it comes to claiming child benefits, etc. (it won’t – it’s more about who the primary carer is and you can be one of those without a residence order as I have explained above).
  4. Some people are reassured (for whatever reason) that having one will give them and their children stability.
  5. Their solicitor has added one into the draft order without discussion nor agreement and it’s slipped through – I’ve seen this happen!
  6. They think Child Arrangements Orders have to say who the resident parent is (they don’t).
  7. The court decides to order one.

With all this in mind – a residence order is seldom the silver bullet many mums and dads seem to think it is.

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The alternatives

After reading this you may be saying `So if a residence order doesn’t do what I want it to do, what are my options?’

It depends what you want the Court to order. It’s important to realise that despite what many think, it doesn’t have unlimited powers and can’t order absolutely anything.

That said, the Court knows that some parents seem happy to fight their ex partner even if it isn’t in their best interests and has ways of dealing with them – because there is nothing new under the sun. Your situation is unique, meaning the advice you need is likewise unique.

It’s a fair bet to say that a residence order isn’t the answer however.

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