How to handle child custody arrangements

Making the decision to divorce or separate can lead to a difficult time for all involved, particularly if the relationship has not ended amicably, and situations where children are involved can be even more stressful and emotionally demanding. 

At DRN, our experienced Family Law solicitors are committed to supporting you through your divorce or separation, helping you to focus on the best steps to take to protect your child’s best interests. 

How to decide which parent will receive custody of the child 

Settling on the decision of which parent the child will live with is often the first step in making arrangements for a child following separation or divorce. Previously referred to as child custody or residence, the process has been relabelled in recent years as ‘child arrangements’. 

In many cases, the issue of custody is often resolved privately between the parents, however if this is not possible, there are steps you can take to ensure you achieve the result best suited for your child’s needs. 

Neither parent has automatic right to custody following separation. If an agreement cannot be reached through private discussion, you may wish to request the intervention of the court to help with settling the matter of custody.  

Whether you seek to reach an agreement inside or outside of the court, there are a number of key factors which should (and will) be taken into consideration, including:  

  • The child’s own wishes 
  • The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child 
  • The child’s age, gender, circumstances, and any other relevant detail 
  • Any risk of harm the child may face in living with either parent
  • The capability of each parent to take care of the child and support their needs (separate from the question of who will provide financial support for the child) 

With the above factors in mind, custody will usually be granted to the parent who has taken on the majority of care-taking responsibilities for the child. 

Typically, the other parent will then be required to make regular child maintenance payments so that the child may receive adequate financial support. 

Can both parents share custody? 

Whilst shared custody is a possibility, it is a less common arrangement as the disruption caused by the child having to regularly move between two homes is considered unideal.

In instances where there are two or more children involved, it is possible for one sibling to live with one parent and the other(s) to live with the other parent, however this is considered to be an unusual arrangement. 

What are the rights and responsibilities of the non-resident parent? 

Unless there are exceptional circumstances preventing contact, the parent with whom the child does not live will be entitled to regular visits or correspondence with the child. This right is waived only in cases where the parent may pose a threat to the child, or in instances where an older child has expressed their wishes not to maintain contact with the other parent. 

Contact arrangements can be made to include weekly or fortnightly contact, overnight stays, contact on special occasions, and annual holidays and trips away, but the priority should always be placed on serving the best interests of the child. 

In any case, both parents will continue to have parental responsibility for the child, meaning that while the parent the child lives with will be responsible for the day-to-day decision-making, both parents have a right to be involved in any major decisions. For this reason, it is always advisable that both parents seek to remain on good terms with their former partner/spouse. 

What is a child arrangements order? 

If you have been unable to reach an agreement privately, or if you are now concerned that the other parent is not fulfilling their responsibilities in accordance with a prior agreement, there is the option for you to apply to the court for a child arrangements order. This order usually lasts until the child is 16 years old (or 18 in exceptional cases).

Child arrangements orders are often sought in instances where the resident parent is disrupting or refusing the other parent’s contact with the child, or where child custody and contact rights have not already been established and agreed upon from the offset.  

There are also two other types of court application available to a parent - a specific issue order and a prohibited steps order.  

You might wish to make an application for a specific issue order if both you and your ex-partner cannot come to an agreement on an important decision, such as where the child should be educated.  

A prohibited steps order is used to prevent a particular action, such as your child being moved to a different part of the country (or abroad) where it will be difficult for you to maintain contact, or your former partner changing the child’s surname after remarrying. 

Our Children Matters Services 

Our Family Department is headed by Nicola Barrow, an expert Family Law solicitor with over 20 years of experience in handling a wide variety of claims relating to Children Act matters.  

Acting with the utmost discretion and sensitivity to your situation, our team will work on your behalf, liaising with courts and the other party, to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your child. 

For a free and confidential discussion about your circumstances, please contact Nicola on 01282 433241.