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Disputes about Children

Children usually find it very difficult to deal with the breakdown of their parents’ relationship. If you’re separating or divorcing, you’ll need to find ways of dealing with your children’s issues. As a parent you’re responsible for the health, safety and well-being of your children. In general, the law is focused on protecting their rights and helping to ensure that they maintain a relationship with both parents – unless there is a specific reason not to, e.g. if they are at risk of harm.

Last updated on January 18th, 2024 at 02:23 pm

Who will look after the children?

If you’re splitting up and have children, you’ll need to make decisions about with whom they’ll live and when they’ll spend time with their other parent.  Some separating couples agree a shared care arrangement. All families are different and there’s no single right outcome. If you can’t agree the future arrangements with your partner, the court may have to make these decisions for you.

We used to refer to ‘custody and access’ when talking about who would look after the children following divorce or separation. This was replaced with ‘residence and contact’ by the Children Act 1989. However, in April 2014, the law changed again with the introduction of schedule II of the Children & Families Act 2014 and these issues are now determined by a single ‘child arrangements order’.

What if we can’t agree?

If you can’t agree on how your children should be cared for, you must now attend mediation or some other sort of meeting aimed at coming to an agreement.  This is known as a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM).  You usually attend this alone.  The mediator will explain how he/she can help and will assess the suitability of mediation for your particular case, taking into account any domestic abuse concerns and your own willingness to mediate with your ex-partner.  If mediation is assessed as unsuitable or if your ex-partner declines to attend, or if joint mediation sessions start but then break down, the mediator will give you a form which will enable you to apply to court for orders relating to your children.  These are:

Child arrangements order

You can apply to the court for a child arrangements order which determines with whom your children should live and when they should spend time with their other parent.

Prohibited steps order

A court can issue a prohibited steps order to prevent a parent from doing something that the other parent doesn’t agree with, such as taking them out of the area or country, giving them medical treatment, changing their school or associating with someone who could have an adverse influence on the children.  This does not necessarily mean that a parent can’t take a child abroad on holiday, but they will need to apply to the court for permission if they do not have the consent of all persons sharing parental responsibility for the child.  The exception to this rule is the holder of an order that confirms the child lives/resides with them.

Specific issues order

You can apply to court for a specific issues order which, as the name suggests, deals with the determination of a specific issue relating to parental responsibility such as choice of school, religion, medical treatment or whether the parent with care can take the children to live abroad.

Your right to apply for these orders depends on your relationship with the children.  A parent or guardian of the child is entitled to apply, as is any person in whose favour a residence order/child arrangements ‘living with’ order is made.  A step-parent, or any person with whom the child has lived for at least a 3 year period, is also entitled to apply.  Other people, such as grandparents, need to first obtain permission from the court (and demonstrate their significant connection with the child) before bringing an application.

Our specialist family lawyers can help you with applying for the following orders and will prepare the relevant documentation for you.

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