Arrangements for children

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Our family solicitors specialise in resolving disputes over arrangements for children. We help parents in all kinds of circumstances, including sensitive situations where allegations of abuse or parental alienation are involved, or where one parent decides they wish to live overseas with your children. We will take the time to understand your individual circumstances and work with you to achieve the best outcome for your family. 

After a relationship has broken down, it’s often hard to reach agreement on what is best for your children, especially if you and your ex-partner have different views. You will need to agree where the children live (formerly called “residence” or “custody”) and when and where they spend time with both of you (formerly called “contact” or “access”).

You may also disagree on other important issues such as schooling or medical care.

Once you’ve reached an agreement, you may wish to record this in a parenting plan. Although not legally binding, this will provide clarity as to what you have decided and how you will resolve any future dispute.

If you can’t reach an agreement, the court has the power to make orders in relation to your children. These include a child arrangements order, which will set out how the children will be cared for, a specific issue order, dealing with a particular dispute about their upbringing, and a prohibited steps order, to prevent a parent from taking certain actions in relation to the child, such as moving away. 

We appreciate that disputes over arrangements for children can be distressing. We are both experienced and sensitive and will explain your options and their consequences clearly and carefully.

Common questions on arrangements for children

When you separate from your child’s other parent, you need to make sure that the arrangements you put in place are what is best for your child. You need to think about what is in your child’s “best interests” – taking into account their age and any other special needs they may have. This is the same approach which the court will take if an application is made to resolve any dispute. Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and make the decision independent of any emotions you may have towards their other parent.

Every parent who is named on a child’s birth certificate has parental responsibility for that child. This means that they should be involved in all key decisions for that child, such as where they should live, where they should go to school, and other big decisions such as their religious upbringing or medical treatment. You don’t need to consult with the child’s other parents for smaller decisions, such as their hobbies, but should do so for the bigger issues.

The family court no longer uses the term “custody” or “residence” in relation to children, but we understand that this terminology continues to exist outside the court.  The focus needs to be on what is best for your children so we now talk about child arrangements, which includes with whom a child lives and with whom the child otherwise spends time. You can agree for your children to spend equal amounts of time with you both and live with you both, or that they live most of the time with one parent and spend regular set times with the other parent. There is not a one size fits all approach; it very much depends upon what works for your family. It’s important that both parents are involved in key decisions for the children, regardless of who they live with. 

If your ex-partner is restricting the amount of time you can spend with your children, the family court can intervene to determine what the best arrangements for your children would be. Court proceedings can be lengthy, expensive and stressful and you should first consider other ways to resolve the disagreement, such as mediation or arbitration.

CAFCASS is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Cafcass are appointed by the court to independently advise the judge about what is best for children when there is a dispute between the child’s parents. Cafcass will speak to both parents when an application is made to the court, and may later be instructed to prepare a more in-depth report if the issues in dispute require it. Depending upon the age of your child, Cafcass may also meet with your child to discuss their wishes and feelings in an age-appropriate way. You can find out more information about Cafcass here: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/

The starting point is that your child has a right to know and have a relationship with both of his or her parents. The court will do all that it can to promote this relationship and, except in very limited circumstances, will conclude that it is in your child’s best interests to spend time with their other parent. The court will put in place safeguards if necessary and there are sufficient concerns, and Cafcass will advise the court in this regarda.

If you are worried about your children’s safety when with their other parent, you should first consider whether they can spend time together with some safeguards in place, such as a relative supervising this. It is likely that your ex-partner will make an application to the court for contact to resume if this stops altogether. If you have sufficient concerns which would mean that you wish to stop contact or wish to restrict it in any way (such as requiring it to be in a contact centre), then you should take advice to ensure this is properly managed from the outset.

The court can make an order, called a prohibited steps order, which will stop one or both parents from doing something in relation to the children. For example, a prohibited steps order could be put in place which stops your ex-partner from collecting the children from school or removing them from your care. We can assist with making an urgent application to the court. You would need to provide evidence of the risk to the children; the court will not make an order without good reason.

This is also the sort of order you would apply for if the children’s other parent said they intended to relocate to another part of England and you did not agree.

If you wish to move overseas with your children, you either need the consent of their other parent or permission from the court. The court will assess whether it’s in the children’s best interests to move. In order to determine this, the court will balance the benefits of the move to the children (such as being closer to extended family or better opportunities) against any adverse impact to the relationship they have with the other parent. You will need to carefully consider how you will promote the relationship your child has with their other parent and make sure that they can continue to spend time together.

If you wish to go on holiday abroad with your children, speak to their other parent early and try to reach agreement. You’ll need to share where you intend to go and give as much detail as possible, such as flight numbers. If you can’t agree, then you can apply to the court for a specific issue order allowing you and your child to go on holiday.

Neither parent should change a child’s school without the other’s parent’s agreement (or permission from the court if agreement cannot be reached). Schooling for your child is an important issue and one which must be agreed by everyone who has parental responsibility. If your ex-partner is threatening to change the children’s school – or has even already made the application to the new school – then you should make an urgent application to the court for a prohibited steps order.

You cannot change your child’s name without permission from everyone who holds parental responsibility. This is normally just the child’s other parent and you should discuss this with them. If they don’t agree or you are no longer in contact with the other parent, then you can make an application to the court for permission from the judge.

If you have a question that isn’t here or would like advice from one of our family solicitors on divorce, then do get in touch with the family team on +44 (0)1892 506 275.

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Sarah Griffiths

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Claire Tollefson

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Katy-Louise Allen

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