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.
Common questions about child custody
What rights do fathers have during child custody?
In theory, both parents have the same rights to custody of their children, but it is still common for mothers to be given custody. There are various reasons for this, but an important point is that, if the matter is left to the courts to decide, they will usually take into account the strength of the connection each parent has to the children.
As it is still common for mothers to be the primary caregivers for children, this means they are generally more likely to be given custody. However, where a father acts as a primary caregiver, or where caregiving has been split equally, the mother should not automatically be favoured by a court.
It is important to note, however, that a father’s rights to his children will likely depend significantly on whether he has ‘parental responsibility’ for the children in question.
Who has parental responsibility for a child?
Having parental responsibility means you are legally responsible for ensuring your children are cared for (e.g. provided for financially, have a home, go to school etc.) and also that you are entitled to be included in decisions about their upbringing (such as where they live, how they are educated etc.).
Exactly who has parental responsibility will depend on the circumstances. In general:
- A child’s birth mother will have parental responsibility, unless the child has been given up for adoption or taken into care
- A child’s biological father or other second parent will have parental responsibility if they were married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother at the time the child was born
- A child’s biological father or other second parent may have parental responsibility if they were named on the birth certificate, depending on the circumstances
Establishing who has parental responsibility is often critical to child custody matters. If you do not currently have Parental Responsibility, you may be able to acquire this by applying to a court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
How does joint custody work?
It is increasingly common for separated parents to have joint custody. This means the children split their time between the two parents who share parenting responsibility equally. This can be beneficial for children by ensuring they have a positive relationship with both parents and can allow each parent to have more involvement in their children’s lives.
How do you prove a parent is unfit to have custody of children?
If you are concerned that your former partner is an unfit parent, you will need strong evidence to prove this. This could include police reports and school reports, as well as written statements, photographs showing signs of abuse, medical records and copies of any communications between you and your former partner.
Types of behaviour which could see a parent considered unfit for custody include:
- A history of domestic abuse
- Evidence of a drinking problem or substance abuse
- Whether they can provide a suitable, safe home environment
- Whether they have a criminal record
How is custody determined if parents are not married?
If you and your ex-partner were not married, what the impact will be in custody proceedings will depend on whether both of you have established Parental Responsibility. If both parents have Parental Responsibility, the fact you were not married should make no difference to custody proceedings.
However, if one parent did not have Parental Responsibility, this means they will have no automatic legal right to custody, access or contact with their children. In such cases, gaining Parental Responsibility will therefore be an important first step in deciding custody for your children.
Do you have to go to court to decide child custody?
In most cases it is possible to agree custody voluntarily without the need for court action, however this will depend on your circumstances. Please get in touch with our child custody solicitors today to discuss your options.
Can you stop your children being taken abroad without your consent?
If you or your ex-partner wish to take your children abroad, everyone with Parental Responsibility will normally need to give their consent first. If you want to stop your partner taking your children abroad, you can simply refuse consent (if you have Parental Responsibility).
Your partner can apply to a court for permission to take your children abroad without your consent, however, you are entitled to be consulted as part of this process and can raise any concerns you have, such as over your children’s safety or fears that your ex-partner does not intend to return to the UK with your children.
What to bring to your first meeting with our child custody solicitors
When meeting with our child custody solicitors to discuss making arrangements for your children, the following documents may be useful (where applicable):
- Your marriage certificate or certificate of civil partnership
- Any letters or documents sent to you by your spouse or their solicitors
- Any documents sent to you by a court
- Your passport or driving licence & proof of address
Why choose Crisp & Co for child custody advice?
Crisp & Co’s family lawyers have been helping families to work out child custody arrangements for more than two decades, including child contact and child access issues. Our experience and expertise in this area means we can help you swiftly and cost-effectively make arrangements for your children’s future while keeping conflict to a minimum, ensuring your rights as a parent and your children’s best interests are protected.
Our approach is based primarily around non-confrontational dispute resolution, including using family mediation and collaborative law to help families solve child custody issues without the need for court action in most cases. As well as generally being faster and less expensive, this approach can also make it easier to maintain a positive relationship with your former partner. This is usually highly beneficial for your children and your ability to effectively parent them together in future.
Many of our specialist child law solicitors are members of Resolution, which is an organisation of family lawyers committed to removing conflict from family law. As such, our team abides by a code of practice designed to help keep the process of resolving family law issues amicable and we have access to additional training to develop and reinforce non-confrontational family dispute resolution techniques.
Crisp & Co is Lexcel accredited by the Law Society’s Lexcel in recognition of the high standards of our practice management and client care. We have also achieved Law Society accreditation in Family Law Advanced for our particular expertise in this area.