Sensitive legal advice for the issues surrounding disputes involving children.
Disputes about with which parent children should live and how they spend time with their other parent are not just limited to the time of a relationship breakdown. Difficulties can occur at any point until your children become adults.
Our family law team are experts when it comes to handling legal cases regarding children, including their living arrangements in the event of a divorce or separation.
Central to all these disputes are the children themselves. Co-operation between parents and a willingness to put the children's needs first will minimise the impact of separation on them. We can advise on non court based options for finding solutions, or court based litigation. We liaise with court-appointed experts and advise you on the use of independent experts where appropriate. In every case, we help you to reach a solution that's in the best interests of your children.
We can also provide expert advice regarding plans to move abroad with a child, whether you're thinking of making such a move or are concerned that your ex-partner is considering to do so.
We can advise on issues of parental responsibility including drafting parental responsibility agreements and difficulties that arise in exercising that responsibility. These can include issues over schooling, religious upbringing and your child's health. You can rest assured that we deal with these matters sensitively and pragmatically, with a view to obtaining the best outcome with the least upset to all concerned.
Separate to child welfare issues are financial claims relating to children. We can advise on applications for child maintenance and assist in negotiations to reach child maintenance agreements on divorce/dissolution or separation. We also advise on making applications under Schedule 1 Children Act 1989, which may include a school fees order. As well as representing parents, we act for children themselves in seeking, for example, maintenance for their university education.
When couples or single people join together to start a family – 'co-parenting' – we can advise on the legal status of co-parents and who will have (or may acquire) parental responsibility for any child, as well as the legal applications that may need to be made.
We can help you to fully understand the complicated legal position involved in taking the step of surrogacy, especially if there is a foreign surrogacy arrangement.
We offer a 30 minute consultation without charge on matters concerning children.
Frequently asked questions
How can I reach an agreement with the other parent?
Often it is possible to reach agreement in respect of your children such as where they will live, what time should be spent with each parent and the level of child maintenance which should be paid. Our expert family law solicitors recognise that a mutual agreement has the best prospects of success and will cause the least disruption to the children. We can advise on the best way to reach such an agreement in difficult circumstances. Keeping the lines of communication open with the other parent and involving them in any decision making process can often lead to an agreement that suits all concerned.
If we cannot reach an agreement what can I do?
If agreement cannot be reached for whatever reason, we will advise you on the potential for a referral to mediation and your options in respect of a court application. Our expert team will discuss with you the likely outcome and how long the application is likely to take. This means you can make a fully informed decision as to whether this process is in your child's best interests.
How does the court process work?
You will need to complete an application form setting out what order you wish to apply for and brief details of the issues. You will have to pay a court fee of £215. Once the application is issued by the court it will have to be served on the other parent/party so that they know about the court hearing and the application that you have made.
Once an application is made, the court will arrange a first hearing called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). You will need to attend that hearing personally. At this hearing the Judge and a court welfare officer will consider your case and try to assist you in reaching a compromise. If this is not successful, the Judge will consider what further information is required in order to reach a solution and may order you to prepare a statement setting out your case or that the court welfare office visits you and your children in order to prepare a report on what might be the best outcome for the child. The court may also require additional expert evidence such as a psychologists report or a drug or alcohol test depending on the individual circumstances of the case. Our family law solicitors can advise you as to what further evidence will assist you and the children and what to expect at each stage of the proceedings.
Once all the information has been obtained, our expert team can provide support and guidance as to what view the Judge is likely to take and what your options are in respect of reaching an agreement at that point. If agreement is still not possible, the Judge will then use this information to make a decision at a later hearing, usually after hearing evidence from all concerned.
If your case is urgent we can advise on making an emergency application to the court in order to ensure that your case is dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
What types of orders can the court make?
The most comment orders the court can make are a Child Arrangements Order, prohibited steps order or a specific issue order. All of these orders will usually last until your child is aged 16.
Our expert team also has extensive experience in relocation abroad, parental responsibility, special guardianship, child abduction and financial provision for children.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order specifies with whom a child should live and the time they will spend with the non-resident parent. Child Arrangements Orders have replaced residence and contact orders.
A Child Arrangements Order can specify that a child lives with one or both parents (shared residence) or in favour of a third party, such as a grandparent, depending on your circumstances.
If the court considers a shared residence order is appropriate, the order can specify the periods during which your child is to live in the different households involved and it is not therefore necessarily the case that a shared residence order means that your child will divide their time equally between their parents.
A Child Arrangements Order will usually include a requirement for the person who the child lives with to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order. A contact order can therefore be made in favour of a non-resident absent parent or a third party such as a grandparent or other relative.
Contact will usually relate to a child actually spending time with that person, but can also cover contact by letter, e-mail or telephone. The amount of contact can also be specified in the order and can be specific in terms of weekends or holidays for example but can also be more general. The court could also order where the contact takes place and whether it was to be supervised.
When a Child Arrangements Order is in force, no party can change a child's surname without the written consent of everyone who has parental responsibility. Any party with whom a Child Arrangements Order specifies that the child lives (which can be both parties) can remove the child from England and Wales for a period of up to 28 days without the written consent of the other. Any other removal from the jurisdictions will be unlawful without written consent or a court order.
Our expert team can advise you as to what view the court is likely to take of an application for a Child Arrangements Order, whether you are a parent or other relative and can provide expert advice and guidance in order to achieve the best possible outcome. Our team also has extensive experience in cases where domestic violence may be an issue and the specific considerations the court will take into account in these circumstances.
What is a prohibited steps order?
This type of order can be used to prevent one parent from taking certain action without the other parent's consent and as such deals with a specific problem that has arisen. A common use of this order is to prevent one parent from taking a child abroad or to prevent a change of surname.
What is a specific issue order?
This type of order allows the court to make a decision on a disputed point such as what school a child should attend, whether a child should have a particular operation or what religion a child should adopt.
What do I do if I wish to relocate with my child?
If you wish to move outside of the jurisdiction of England and Wales or move a significant distance within the jurisdiction (so as to create difficulty for your ex-partner to maintain their current contact pattern) with your child and your child's other parent objects, you will need to make an application to the court for permission to move. There are specific considerations that the court will take into account in such cases and the court will expect detailed proposals which are reasonable and have a genuine motivation. The court will also consider the effect on both parents of the decision to allow or refuse the move, the effect on the child and the potential reduction in the time they would be able to spend with the parent who was left behind and what proposals have been made or how feasible it is for this contact to be maintained.
We can provide expert advice whether you are the parent wishing to move or the one potentially being left behind. We understand that issues such as these will have a profound effect on both you and your child and our family law solicitors have extensive experience in dealing with such matters sensitively yet robustly in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
What is parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined as "all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property". In practical terms it gives the parent responsibility for taking all the important decisions in a child's life such as education, religion and medical care as well as day to day decisions for example in relation to nutrition, recreation and outings.
Married parents have joint parental responsibility, however if you are not married, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility. An unmarried father can however obtain parental responsibility in a number of ways, the most common of which is being named on the child's birth certificate (for children born after 1 December 2003).
We can provide expert advice and whether you or your partner has parental responsibility, the likelihood of obtaining it through a variety of means and the effect it will have on your family.
How will the court decide what order should be made?
In deciding whether to make an order, the child's welfare will always be the courts paramount concern and in each case the court will undertake a detailed review of what is in the child's best interests. The court will apply a checklist of factors to be taken into account and it is therefore of vital importance that your case is presented in a way which addresses each of these points. Our expert family law solicitors can advise you of how best to achieve this.
The court will consider the wishes and feelings of the child, their physical, emotional and educational needs, the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances, the child's age, sex, background and any other relevant characteristics, any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering and how capable the adults involved are of meeting the child's needs.
How can I obtain financial support for my child from the other parent?
The law relating to financial provision for children is complex. Our specialist team recognises the importance of having sufficient financial resources to care for your child and can advise in relation to child support as well as whether there is any prospect of obtaining a lump sum payment or transfer of property for your child's benefit. This may be particularly relevant to unmarried parents where there are no such obligations to each other.
If you have any query in respect of your children or whether you are a grandparent or friend with similar concerns, speak to our approachable family law solicitors by calling 0345 073 9900 or by booking an appointment for a free 30 minute consultation. We are ready to listen and to assist you in any way we can.
Do I have to pay maintenance for my child?
When an unmarried couple separate, the absent parent will be required to pay child support in accordance with child support agency guidelines. You may wish to consider whether you are able to reach agreement in respect of this or whether an application to the CSA is necessary. We will advise you on your options and what you might expect to pay or receive for your child depending on your circumstances.
It is also possible to seek additional financial support for your child in the form of a lump sum for provision of property under Schedule 1 Children Act 1989, which can secure a property for both the child and the parent with care to live in. This is a specialist area of law which our family law solicitors have extensive experience in. We can advise you on the factors which will be taken into account in determining whether such an application would be successful and the likely outcome in your particular circumstances.