Deciding to end a marriage is a painful decision for anyone, regardless of how difficult the relationship has become. But dealing with what will happen to your children when you separate can be particularly distressing, especially if you and your partner cannot agree on who the children should live with.
Thankfully, the family law system in the UK is geared towards helping parents work out arrangements for children between themselves. Questions such as “how often can I see my children” are mostly decided outside the courtroom. Good family law solicitors support parents to work out suitable arrangements for children that will continue to work even when circumstances change (e.g. one party meets someone else).
If you have decided to leave your marriage, below is a guide to how to decide where your children will live most of the time and how often the non-custodial parent will have access.
Before we begin, it is important to note that the terms ‘custody and access’ and ‘residence and contact’ are no longer used by the family courts. Instead, they talk about ‘child arrangement orders.'
Working out arrangement between yourselves
Most arrangements for children following a separation are resolved informally. Before granting a divorce, the courts will want to see evidence that you have worked out who your children will live with on a day-to-day basis and how often the non-custodial parent will see them. However, they will not pass a ‘child arrangement order’ unless the parents clearly cannot work things out between themselves.
Round-table meetings and mediation
If you and your partner cannot agree on arrangements for your children together, your family solicitor may be able to help you both settle where your children will live and how they will be cared for, in a round-table meeting.
Alternatively, you can both attend mediation. This involves a trained, impartial third-party sitting down with you both to help you reach a mutual agreement, in a calm environment.
Both parents are responsible for the financial maintenance of their children. The parent with whom the children live most of the time typically receives maintenance from the other. As with arranging where your children will live, it is best if you can work out maintenance agreements between yourselves - this is called a ‘family-based child arrangement.' If this proves difficult, you can seek help from Child Maintenance Options, which is a free service.
The court may make an order for child maintenance if it concerns:
- school fees
- additional needs for disabled children
- children in further education
- children whose non-resident parent lives in another country
Situations where going to court may be necessary
There are some cases where it is impossible (and sometimes dangerous) for a couple to try and work out child arrangements and maintenance issues between themselves or through mediation. If there has been a history of domestic violence or sexual abuse, it may be necessary for a judge and to sort out the arrangements for your children.
If you’re currently going through a marriage breakdown and are thinking about getting a divorce, help is at hand. Do you have questions about making arrangements for your children? Get in touch with our team of expert family lawyers today or send us an enquiry via our website.