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Custody battles – the do’s and don’ts

In February 2019, the Independent reported a surge in parents being forced to fight child custody (residence) battles with no legal representation.  Figures show that the number more than doubled between 2011 and 2017 with an increase of 134%.



More recently, a private law group, set up by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, to come up with interim proposals to improve the current system, said that Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) received 18% more private law cases in March 2019 than it did in the same month in 2018, making March 2019 the highest March on record.

Increase due to cuts to legal aid?

Unsurprisingly, the increase is said to tie in with cuts to legal aid. In 2012 the Legal Aid Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act (known as LASPO) abolished legal aid for the majority of family law cases, with parents only being eligible if they qualified on the basis of both income and capital and had evidence that they had been a victim of domestic abuse.    An exceptional case funding scheme exists, but funding is difficult to obtain and only 954 cases are reported to have benefitted from it.

One in five parents at court have no legal representation

In 2017, of 23,881 parents who applied to court for a child arrangements order, one in five had no legal representation, leaving them to navigate ‘complex and confusing cases’ alone.  The surge in parents representing themselves has resulted in prolonged proceedings and heightened anxiety for parents and children.

Many parents refer to representing themselves in court as being like walking into a lion’s den – not knowing what to ask for or having any understanding of the law.

Tips on how to deal with a custody battle

  • Show a willingness to work with your ex.While you may not like them, they are part of your children’s life.  You need to show the judge that you have a willingness to ‘work together’.
  • Exercise your parental responsibility. Make sure you attend contact meetings.  Spend as much time with your children as you can.
  • Don’t talk about your ex negatively in front of the children.Keep your feelings to yourself and vent your frustration to a trusted friend.
  • Always arrive on time to collect children.Arriving late can be used to create a negative impression of your commitment.
  • Don’t keep changing arrangements.
  • Don’t abuse alcohol.
  • Perception is everything. What’s said about you doesn’t really matter if it’s not true. What matters is whether a judge believes the comments are true.
  • Do what is asked of you by the court.Don’t see it as being a criticism but view it as an opportunity for you to show the court what you can do.
  • Don’t involve children in the court case.You may be tempted, but it’s important to shield them and not place the burden of adult issues on their shoulders.
  • Don’t invent negative stories or make unfounded allegations of abuse or exaggerate your ex’s shortcomings in order to win.
  • Present yourself in court as a competent, involved and loving parent.Ensure that you arrive on time, dress appropriately and demonstrate proper courtroom etiquette in front of the judge.  Try not to become involved in an argument with your ex. Allow them to speak.  You will get your chance.
  • Prepare.
  • Work with a family solicitor.

Be the better parent

Always try to show yourself as the better parent.  See court as the last resort and ask yourself if a court application can be avoided.  Remain child focussed, ask yourself “what is in my child’s best interests” and be prepared to compromise without seeing this as the other parent winning.


Nicola Cancellara, family solicitor

Remember the court’s sole purpose is to find what is best for your child and the least disruption is always the best way forward.  Judges want to know that a parent will not stand in the other’s way when it comes to having a relationship with their child.

So many emotions are tied into child custody battles and it can be difficult to keep a level head. If you are about to embark upon a court application relating to your children or are going through one and need assistance – or if you need help with any family law matter – please contact us now.  We will arrange a meeting with one of our family law experts to discuss your matter.  You can also find out more about children and divorce on our web pages.

Please note that the term ‘custody’ is not a current term and the word ‘residence’ is now used in its place.

Author: Nicola Cancellara, family solicitor.

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