If you need advice or representation in child arrangement issues, we’re here to help. The expert solicitors at Slater and Gordon are highly knowledgeable in all areas of family and children law. To find out more and for an initial consultation, call us 24/7 on freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online.
Putting child arrangements in place can be extremely difficult when you’re going through a separation or divorce. However, it’s vital that you get this right for the sake of your children, yourself and your wider family. Our specialists can enable you to achieve this with as little expense and stress as possible.
We can help you to resolve issues ranging from where your children should live and when they should see you and your ex-partner to the financial arrangements that should be put in place to ensure each party contributes fairly.
You’ve probably heard the terms ‘sole custody’, ‘joint custody’ and ‘access’. In the past, these phrases were used to refer to the arrangements that were put in place regarding which parent a child would live with and when and where the other parent would be able to see them. This terminology was changed however to reflect the fact that no parent has ownership of their child, even if a legal agreement determines who they live with.
More recently, the phrases ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ were used to replace ‘custody’ and ‘access’. Then, in April 2014, the terminology changed again. From this point onwards, courts started granting ‘child arrangements orders’ that govern where children live and with whom they spend their time. These changes are intended to reinforce a message of equal parenting that puts the needs of children first and ensures they’ve a right to a relationship with both parents, where this is appropriate.
It’s not always straightforward deciding what’s best for your children. When you’re trying to determine child arrangements, it helps to ask yourself some basic questions, including the following:
If your children won’t be living with you, it’s also important to think about the best ways to stay in touch with them, and to consider how to communicate with your ex about issues concerning your children. If your relationship is strained and you don’t wish to speak to each other by phone, perhaps you’d consider texts or emails. Another option is to relay information via family members or friends. However you do it, it’s useful to find effective ways to stay in touch about your children.
Child arrangement issues don’t have to be settled in court. In fact, the law requires you and your former partner to attempt to resolve these issues yourself before you take your case to court. As long as you can come to an agreement with your ex concerning where your children will live and when they’ll spend time with each of you, you should be able to avoid court.
Not taking your case to court can help you to keep your stress levels and your costs down, and crucially it can also help to minimise any upset and anxiety that your children experience.
If you’re struggling to reach agreement with your ex over child arrangements, there are steps you can take before you’ve to go to court.
A professionally trained mediator can help you and your ex to reach agreement without taking sides. In most cases, separating couples attend joint mediation sessions to discuss their differences and try to come to a consensus. However, if you prefer, you can use a ‘shuttle mediation’ service in which you sit in different rooms and ask your mediator to go between you both relaying information. Bear in mind that this type of mediation takes longer and so is generally more expensive.
The mediator won’t be able to provide you with legal advice, but they’ll listen to both sides and help to create a calm environment, making it easier to come to an agreement that you and your ex are both satisfied with. They’ll also suggest practical steps that help to bring you towards a consensus.
If your mediator thinks it’s appropriate and you agree to it, they may speak to your children.
At the end of the process, they’ll write a ‘memorandum of understanding’ outlining what you’ve agreed. You can then instruct your solicitor to make this into a legally binding consent order.
Alternatively, you could try collaborative law. This is more expensive than mediation, but it’s still generally cheaper than taking your case to court. The process involves both you and your former partner getting your own solicitors and meeting as a four to try to come to an agreement. If you can achieve this, your solicitor will usually draft a consent order detailing what you’ve agreed.
If collaborative law doesn’t work and you end up going to court, you can’t use the same solicitor again to represent you.
Family arbitration is similar to going to court, but instead of a judge deciding on your case, a person known as an arbitrator will do this. Also, unlike when you go to court, you can choose the location of your hearing.
The decision reached by an arbitrator is legally binding.
If you’ve tried alternative approaches and haven’t been able to reach an agreement, court may be your only option. Bear in mind though, in most cases you’ll need to show that you attended a meeting to explore the possibility of mediation before you’ll be allowed to take this step.
Assuming you meet this criterion, your next step will be to apply for a child arrangements order. This will determine where your children live, when they spend time with you and your ex and what forms of contact take place (for example, phone calls). You can also apply for a specific issue order that relates to a particular aspect of your children’s upbringing. This could include which schools they attend.
A hearing will then be arranged during which a judge or magistrate will encourage you and your former partner to come to an agreement. If you can’t, they’ll decide what happens next. The judge or magistrate will only make a court order that they believe is in the best interests of the children.
We understand that child arrangements can be a highly emotive issue and that separating couples often find it difficult to come to agreements. With one of the UK’s leading family law teams, Slater and Gordon can help you through this difficult period. We’ll ensure that your wishes are fully considered at all stages of the process and that you reach a resolution that’s right for you, your children and your wider family.
Our child arrangement solicitors, previously known as child custody solicitors, know that tension can run high in these cases. They’ll be there to remove any misunderstandings and confusion, and to help ensure that you understand your options. We know it’s in everyone’s interests if you can come to an agreement with your ex without having to go to court, so our specialists will take steps to reach an amicable solution through careful negotiation.
This sensitive approach, which seeks to minimise conflict, will help you to save money and avoid unnecessary stress. If agreement can’t be reached, our lawyers will guide you through the legal process, offering support and advice at every stage.
Many of our children law solicitors are members of Resolution, an organisation that’s committed to a constructive approach to the practice of family law.
With offices across the UK, we’re available to provide immediate support and representation. For an initial consultation, call us on freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online.