By now, you have no doubt read the sad news that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's marriage is over. No one will be affected more by this than the couple's six children, Maddox (15), Pax (12), Zahara (11), Shiloh (10), Knox (eight) and Vivienne (eight).
Angelina is reportedly looking for custody of the children now that she and Brad are going their separate ways. Any disagreements regarding the children will no doubt be dealt with under the American legal system, which we cannot advise on, but how would this be approached in England and Wales?
On separation, the law of England and Wales expects parents to agree arrangements for the children between them. There is no right and wrong here, or minimum or maximum time that a parent should spend with a child.
Brad and Angelina would need to think about what is best for each child and base the arrangements on that.
If Brad and Angelina could reach an agreement regarding the children, they could simply go ahead with this. There would be no need to record the agreement formally.
If there is no agreement, the next step would be for Brad and Angelina either to see a solicitor or to make a referral to mediation.
Some parents find it hard to reach an agreement between them if their relationship has just broken down and emotions are running high. If this were the case with Angelina and Brad, one or both of them could ask a solicitor to put a proposal forward to the other on their behalf and this may resolve matters.
Alternatively, or, if a solicitor's letter does not do the trick, Brad or Angelina could make a referral to mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process and would involve Brad and Angelina sitting down with an independent person, whose job it would be to help them reach an agreement.
This may work, but, if it did not, Angelina and Brad could move to Step Three.
If there is still no agreement, Brad or Angelina could make an application to court for a Child Arrangements Order. This looks at who a child lives with and when they spend time with the other parent. Brad and Angelina would not be able to make an application unless they had tried mediation first (subject to limited exceptions, see Step Two above).
It seems in this case that Angelina would apply to have the children live with her. Brad may or may not agree with this.
When an application is made to court in relation to children, an organisation called CAFCASS would become involved. CAFCASS' job is to focus on "the best interests of the children" and to advise the court, as appropriate.
Many factors would be considered by a court if Angelina or Brad made an application. In their case, it would be likely that the wishes of, certainly the eldest child, Maddox would carry a lot of weight. This may also be true of the other older children, particularly Pax, who is nearly 13.
It is common in cases involving teenage children, able to speak their mind, for their preference to be followed. If Maddox wanted to live with Brad, the court would pay attention to this.
In conclusion, no one knows what the outcome will be in Angelina and Brad's case and they will follow a different set of steps in any case, under the American legal system, but should you wish to know more about arrangements for children on a separation, please talk to one of our child custody solicitors.
Slater and Gordon is home to the largest team of specialist family lawyers in England and Wales. Wherever you live and whatever child custody (known as children law) problem you are facing, we can help. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online.
Rhiannon White is a family law solicitor with expertise in children matters based at Slater and Gordon in Chester.