Children – Living Arrangements
(Now called Child Arrangements Orders, Previously known as Residence and Contact)
At Sheppersons Solicitors we are specialists in dealing with matters involving children following on from a divorce or separation. From who the child will live with, what contact they will have with the non-resident parent (sometimes called child custody), to financial maintenance, contact us to see how we can help.
After a family breakdown, the needs of any children involved are of the highest importance. The law in relation to children is clearly based on what is in their best interests, rather than the best interests of the parents.
It is critical 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.
The legal system in England prefers voluntary agreements between parents rather than court imposed settlements. It is accepted that voluntary agreements are more likely to succeed in the long term. The courts will only usually become involved if both parents are unable to reach a suitable compromise.
Determining who the child will live with
This is sometimes still referred to as ‘child custody’ or ‘child residence’. 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 ‘spend time with or have contact’ with their other parent at regular, pre-arranged intervals, for example at weekends. An experienced family solicitor will help you to negotiate the most suitable arrangements for your family.
A number of factors will influence the arrangements including:
- (Subject to their age and understanding) The wishes and feelings of the children themselves
- The day to day availability of the parents in light of work and other commitments
- Whether one party has historically undertaken more of the day to day care than the other
- Whether there have been incidents of domestic violence in the family or there are other historic problems requiring the children to be protected
In some cases it is possible for parents to have a shared residence of living with arrangement for 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.
Dispute between parents as to the arrangements for the children are common. 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.
We will advise you as to whether Family Mediation is a suitable option for you and we can help arrange Mediation for you where required. Sally Gandon is a trained mediator.
Determining child contact with the non-resident parent
The law in England generally accepts presumes that it is in the interests of children to have regular contact with both parents, unless special circumstances apply.
It is important to 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.
It is up to the couple involved to agree a routine that suits the children and them. In our experience, agreements reached by the parents work better than those imposed by the court. There are no specific rules in law as to how much contact is allowed.
Usually, these 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 Child Arrangements Order that specifies exactly what contact the non-resident parent will have.
Contact with your child can be in many forms, such as days spent with the non-resident parent at the weekend, or evenings during the week. Children should also be encouraged to spend long periods with the non-resident parent, to include overnight stays or extended stays during school holidays.
What if an agreement cannot be reached by negotiation?
If negotiations between yourselves are not effective then Family Mediation is the next option. If this does not work 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:
Living arrangements (Replaces the previous Residence order and Contact order)
A Living arrangements order determines whom the children will live with once the separation is made permanent. It is possible to have a shared Living arrangements order and the order will specify the periods that the children will spend with each parent.A Living arrangements order also 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.
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.
Two members of our Family law team are members 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, preserving people’s dignity and encouraging agreements.