If you need help with child arrangement issues, you can rely on Slater and Gordon for expert legal advice and representation. Our solicitors are highly knowledgeable and experienced in all aspects of children law. For an initial consultation, simply call us 24/7 on freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online and we will call you.
We know that sorting out child arrangements can be extremely difficult when you are going through the trauma of separation or divorce. However, making suitable arrangements for your children is essential. Our family law solicitors can help you to achieve this with as little stress and expense as possible.
Who has parental responsibility?
If a married couple split, both partners will have parental responsibility for their children. In the case of an unmarried couple, only the mother has automatic rights in respect to the children. However, unmarried fathers can obtain parental responsibility if they are named on the child’s birth certificate and the child was born after December 2003. They can also acquire parental responsibility if they have jointly signed a Parental Responsibility Agreement, which is something that can be done at any stage during a relationship or separation. This can also be ordered by a court following a separation.
Regardless of who has parental responsibility, the non-residential parent are required to contribute to the financial support of their children.
Do you need to go to court to decide the child arrangements?
In the UK, you don’t need to go to court in order to decide on the child arrangements - previously known as residence and contact arrangements - for your children. In fact, you will only have to take this legal route if you can’t come to an agreement by other means.
As long as you can agree on where your children will live and when they will spend time with you and your ex, you should be able to avoid going to court.
Important custody issues to consider
Knowing what is best for your children in terms of child arrangements can be difficult. When you are trying to decide where your youngsters will stay, there are a number of important issues to consider. For example, you should think about:
- which parent has the most time to be able to look after the children and spend quality time with them, and on which days
- what is most convenient for the children (for instance, it may not make sense for them to stay somewhere on weekdays that requires them to travel a long distance to get to school)
- how circumstances may change in the future (for example, if they are going to start attending a different school).
If your children will not be living with you, make sure you think carefully about how you will stay in touch with them, and consider the best ways to keep in contact with your ex partner about issues relating to your children. If you don’t want to speak to each other in person or over the phone, you could decide to use emails or texts, or choose a friend or family member who can relay information between you.
Putting some detailed thought into these issues should help you to achieve the best outcome for your children and for yourself.
If you can come to an agreement with your partner over these issues, you might want to make a written record in the form of a Parenting Plan. This document can help you to clarify your arrangement and it’s something you can refer back to later on. You can get a template of a Parenting Plan online that you and your partner can fill in. Make sure that both of you have a copy.
Bear in mind that you can change this plan at any time as long as your partner agrees.
Making your agreement legally binding
If you want to make your agreement legally binding, you can turn to a solicitor. A family law expert will be able to draft a ‘consent order’ that confirms the details of your arrangement, including information such as where your children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. Once this document has been drawn up, you will need to pay a fee to get it recognised by the courts. A judge will approve it as long as they think you have made decisions that are in the interests of your children and provided that there are no safeguarding concerns that would prevent them from making the order.
You can also arrange child maintenance yourself without interventions from the Child Maintenance Service (formerly CSA) or in certain circumstances the Court, if you and your ex are able to agree. A ‘family-based arrangement’ offers a way to sort this out privately. These arrangements are flexible and they can be changed over time.
What if you and your ex can’t agree?
If you aren’t able to come to an agreement with your ex over the custody of your children, there are still other steps you can take before you go to court.
Mediation can be an effective way to resolve any disagreements you have with your ex and it’s a cheaper and less stressful alternative to going to court. Also, even if you do eventually end up in court, you will normally have to provide evidence that you have been to a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAMs), which is a session that explains what this approach involves and how it can help you.
A mediator can’t provide legal advice, but they will help to create a calm environment in which it is easier to find common ground with your ex. They will listen to both perspectives without taking sides and they will offer practical suggestions to help you to reach agreements. These trained experts will focus on what is best for your children.
To maximise the chances of your mediation succeeding, before these sessions start, think about exactly what you want to get out of them. You should also make sure you have a clear idea of the areas you and your ex disagree on most strongly.
At the end of the process, if it has been successful, your mediator will create a ‘memorandum of understanding’. This is a document that sets out what you have agreed. You can then choose to instruct your solicitor to turn this into a consent order to make it legally binding.
As an alternative you might want to try collaborative law. This costs more than mediation but it can still be cheaper than going to court. In this process, both you and your ex have your own solicitors, and you will meet as a four to try to reach an agreement. If this is successful, your legal representative will usually draw up a consent order. Bear in mind that if it doesn’t succeed and you end up going to court, you’ll need to use a different solicitor.
Option to court proceedings is family arbitration which is in many ways similar to going through the court system. However, rather than a judge deciding on your case, an arbitrator will perform this role. Another crucial difference is that you’re allowed to choose where your hearing takes place. The decision reached by the arbitrator is legally binding.
Applying to a court
If you’ve tried other options and you still can’t agree, you may need to go to court to resolve a child arrangement dispute. As mentioned previously, in most cases you’ll have to show that you attended a meeting to explore whether mediation would work before you can take this legal step.
You can apply for a range of court orders depending on what it is that you and your ex disagree on. For example, you can apply for a ‘child arrangements order’ that determines where your child lives, when they spend time with each parent and what types of contact take place (such as phone calls). You can also apply for a ‘specific issue order’ that deals with a particular issue concerning the child’s upbringing, such as which school they attend and whether they should receive a religious education.
Once you’ve applied for the relevant court orders, a hearing will be arranged in which a magistrate or judge will encourage you and your ex to reach an agreement. If this can’t be achieved, the magistrate or judge will determine what happens next.
They will only make a court order if they think it is in the best interests of the child, and they will consider a wide range of issues. For example, where possible they will take the child’s feelings and wishes into account, as well as their emotional, physical and educational needs. They will also think about the effects that any changes may have on the child, and anything that could put them at risk. In addition, magistrates and judges look at the ability of parents to meet their children’s needs.
Because court proceedings can be long, costly and highly stressful, it’s important to make sure that you have exhausted the other options open to you before you go down this path. Also, consider the fact that this more combative approach has the potential to cause greater distress and harm to your children and to your wider family.
How can Slater and Gordon Lawyers help you?
At Slater and Gordon, we have extensive experience in helping our clients to resolve these potentially difficult cases. When you come to us for advice and support on child arrangement issues, you will benefit from a professional and sensitive service.
When relationships come to an end, feelings can run high. Our trained professionals can help to remove any confusion and misunderstandings, ensuring that you understand your options clearly. We appreciate that it is in the best interests of both parents and children if you can come to an agreement on any child arrangement issues that arise as a result of divorce or separation. For this reason, whenever possible, our family law solicitors take steps to avoid conflict and to come to amicable solutions through a process of careful negotiation.
We also know that reaching an agreement like this is not always possible during what is often an emotionally charged time. In cases where an amicable resolution cannot be reached, our specialist child arrangement lawyers will guide you through the legal process, providing you with the highest standard of legal advice and support at every stage. You can count on us to help you get very best outcome for you and your children.
Also, to help our clients to understand more about family law and how they can protect their rights, we have produced a number of online resources. For example, if you require more detailed information about child maintenance payments, you can read our legal advice guide to Child Maintenance, which you can download and print.
A reputation you can trust
We have an unmatched reputation for providing a proactive, professional family law service and for achieving outstanding results on behalf of our clients. We are rated nine out of 10 on TRUSTPILOT, and the Legal 500 United Kingdom 2016/17 edition states:
“Slater and Gordon’s team ‘really knows its stuff’ and regularly advises on large and complex family law cases.”
Many of our family law solicitors are members of the organisation Resolution, which is committed to a constructive approach to family law. A number of our team are also trained as collaborative lawyers.
Slater and Gordon is home to the largest team of specialist family lawyers in the country. So, wherever you live and whatever child arrangement problem you are facing, we can help. We have offices in Manchester, Liverpool, London, Watford, Sheffield, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Preston, and Edinburgh.
We offer both flexible pricing and fixed fee services and will work with you to find the most cost-effective resolution for your family. To find out more about how we can help you, call us on freephone 0800 049 2746 or contact us online and tell us when to call you.