When a couple with children separates, deciding where the children will live and what access the non-resident parent will have to them is one of the most important issues to sort out. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most complicated and contentious issues as well, which is why having expert legal support is so valuable to help make this process faster and easier for everyone.
Our specialist family lawyers have been advising and representing parents with all of the issues related to child custody and contact for more than 20 years. We have a strong focus on non-confrontational dispute resolution, meaning that in most cases we can help you find an amicable solution that works for everyone while avoiding the need for court action. This means we can normally achieve a resolution faster and at lower expense while keeping conflict to a minimum, providing a better outcome for you, your former partner and, most importantly, your children.
Our child custody solicitors offer a free 1-hour initial consultation to every client, allowing us to get a clear picture of your circumstances, including any particular issues and exactly what you want to happen. We will then take you through your options in plain English, ensuring you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about how you want to move forward.
How child custody works
There are several key issues you will need to decide in relation to your children when you separate from their other parent. This includes:
- Where your children will live
- How much time they will spend with each parent
- What other type of contact they will have with the non-resident parent e.g. phone calls, email etc.
- What sort of child maintenance the non-resident parent will need to pay
These issues can either be decided voluntarily by agreement between you and your former partner or you can apply to a court to decide for you. Nowadays, most child custody issues are agreed voluntarily between parents and you will usually only be able to apply to a court for a decision if you can show you have already tried or at least seriously considered an out-of-court agreement, or where there are clear reasons this would not be appropriate, such as a history of domestic abuse.
Making child arrangements voluntarily
Most separating couples now decide arrangements for their children by making a Parenting Plan, commonly with the assistance of a trained mediator. A Parenting Plan can be as simple or as complex as you need and can include key details such as:
- Where your children will live
- How much time they will spend with each parent and when this will be
- Who will take children to and collect them from school
- What financial arrangements you need to make, including for regular costs and one-off expenses
- How future decisions about your children will be made, such as where they will go to school
- Anything else you feel it would be helpful to agree in writing
While the arrangements included in a Parenting Plan are voluntary, you can apply for a Consent Order from a court to make some of the key details legally binding, such as those relating to residence and maintenance payments. This can help to provide certainty both for you and your children and offer a sense of stability for the future.
Going to court to decide child custody
If you cannot agree child custody arrangements voluntarily, you can apply to a court to decide for you. You will usually need to show that you have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment (MIAM) to at least consider mediation before you will be allowed to apply to a court.
There are exceptions to this, however, such as where you have experienced domestic abuse or social services have become involved, in which case you may be able to apply directly to a court without considering mediation.
If you do go to court to decide child custody, it is essential to have the right legal advice and support to ensure your case is presented effectively and to give you the best chance of a fair outcome. Our team can help put together a strong argument for you and make sure you have the best possible representation in court proceedings to protect your parental rights and your children’s wellbeing.
Non-confrontational dispute resolution for child custody
When trying to decide child custody arrangements voluntarily, having expert legal support can make it much more likely you will be able to successfully do so while ensuring everyone’s best interests are taken into account.
Our child custody lawyers offer two main types of non-confrontational dispute resolution for working out these issues amicably – mediation and collaborative law. Both offer slightly different approaches with different advantages, meaning they can be useful under different circumstances.
Mediation for child custody issues – This is now the most commonly used method for resolving child custody issues, as well as other issues related to divorce and separation. The process involves both parents meeting with one of our trained, neutral mediators to discuss the issues and any potential points of conflict and agree a Parenting Plan. The mediator’s role is to facilitate the discussion and defuse any potential conflict, helping to keep the meetings both amicable and productive.
Collaborative law for child custody issues – Where there are more complex issues to resolve, collaborative law can be a useful alternative to mediation that still aims to keep the process amicable. This involves both parents and their respective lawyers (who must be trained in collaborative law) meeting for a four-way negotiation. This can allow a voluntary agreement to be reached while giving both parents the reassurance of having their own trained legal expert on hand to help with any more complex issues.