Here at Carltons Solicitors we are specialists in dealing with matters relating to Children following a divorce or separation. Contact us to discuss anything related to child contact (sometimes called child custody), or child residence.
Following a family breakdown, the needs of any children involved are of the highest importance. Therefore the law in relation to children is clearly based on what is in their best interests and not the best interests of the parents.
It is important to ensure that arrangements for things such as where the children will live, when and how often they will have contact with the non-resident parent and where they will go to school are all agreed.
In practice the law prefers voluntary agreements between parents rather than court imposed settlements as it is judged that voluntary agreements are more likely to succeed in the long run. The courts will only usually become involved if both parents are unable to reach a suitable compromise.
Child residence is sometimes referred to as ‘child custody’. It is of overriding importance for any children involved to have a stable and safe place to live.
In many cases the children will live primarily with one parent and the other will have ‘contact’ at regular, pre-arranged intervals, for example at weekends. An experienced family solicitor can help you to negotiate these arrangements.
Many factors will influence the arrangements including the wishes and feelings of the children themselves, the day to day availability of the parents in light of work and other commitments and also whether one party has historically undertaken more of the day to day care than the other.
In some cases it may be possible for parents to have shared residence of the children. For this arrangement to work it has to be practical for the children to move regularly between homes without it being too disruptive and unsettling for them.
Sometimes, there may be a dispute between the parents as to the arrangements for the children. Both parents will be encouraged to try and reach a compromise on the issues in dispute and it is often possible to seek the assistance of a trained Family Mediator, who can help the parties to discuss their views openly and try and reach agreement between themselves.
Carltons Solicitors will advise you as to whether Family Mediation is a suitable option for you and we can help arrange Mediation for you where required.
The law generally accepts that it is in the interests of children to have regular contact with both parents.
It is important that you work out a routine for contact with your children which is regular and which suits the needs of both parents and the children to maintain contact with the non-resident parent.
There are no specific rules as to how much contact is allowed. It is up to the couple involved to agree a routine that suits the children. In our experience, agreements reached by the parents work better than those imposed by the court.
Generally, arrangements can be worked out by a process of negotiation between the parents. If you are not able to reach a compromise then the courts can impose a Contact Order that specifies exactly what contact the non-resident parent will have.
Contact can be in many forms, such as days spent with the non-resident parent at the weekend, or evenings during the week. Whenever possible the children should be encouraged to spend long periods with the non-resident parent, to include overnight stays or extended stays during school holidays.
What if we cannot agree?
If Family Mediation and negotiations between yourselves are not effective then it may be necessary to go to court to get the issues of child residence and child contact resolved.
A Family Judge can make a number of ‘Orders’ which are directives stating what the arrangements for the children will be.
The Orders that can be made are:
A Residence Order determines whom the children will live with once the separation is made permanent. It is possible to have a shared Residence Order and the order will specify the periods that the children will spend with each parent.
A Contact Order is an Order that specifies how often the non-resident parent will see the children. It will clearly outline when and for how long contact will take place. It is the duty of the resident parent to promote contact with the other parent and to encourage the children to attend.
Parental Responsibility Orders
Parental Responsibility is a legal phrase used to define who has the rights and obligations in making decisions that affect the child’s life. A court will generally grant a Parental Responsibility Order to a parent unless there is sufficient reason not to.
Please see our separate section on Parental Responsibility for more information.
Specific Issue Orders
A Specific Issue Order is where you require the court’s assistance in making a key decision about your child’s life. This often includes things such as which school your children will attend, what religion they will be brought up or which surname they will be known by.
Prohibited Steps Order
A Prohibited Steps Order can be granted to prevent a parent from taking a particular step in relation to the children, for example from taking the children out of the country without the consent of the other parent or the court.
Our Family department staff includes a member of Resolution. Members of Resolution are required to follow the Resolution code of practice which commits family lawyers to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational way. Instead family law disputes are dealt with in a constructive way preserving people’s dignity and encouraging agreements.