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When divorcing, dissolving a civil partnership, or separating, arrangements will need to be made for looking after any children of the family. In many instances the parties come to an agreement between them as to where the children will live, the frequency and duration of contact they will have with the non-resident parent, and financial support for the children including payment of child maintenance. You can use a mediator to help come to an agreement about this, although in certain cases – such as when there has been domestic abuse in the relationship – this will not be appropriate.
Agreed arrangements can be recorded in a Parenting Plan. If, however, you cannot reach agreement with your former partner as to arrangements for the children, you will need to apply to the Family Court for a Child Arrangement Order. You will need to have first attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) which assesses whether mediation could resolve matters without going to court. If it seems that issues cannot be resolved without court involvement, you can apply to the court for a Child Arrangement Order.
Child Arrangement Orders – previously known as Residence or Contact Orders – can cover issues such as where the child is to live, how much contact the child will have with other parent etc. The court will make an order that it considers is best for the child’s welfare.
As the situation develops within the family, perhaps as children’s needs change as they get older, it is possible to apply to the court for a variation of a Child Arrangement Order to reflect the change in those needs. It is also possible to depart from arrangements contained with a Child Arrangement Order if both parties to it agree. However, the new arrangements would not be legally binding without a formal variation made by the court. Therefore, if any informal agreement comes to an end, the terms of the original Child Arrangement Order would apply.
Either parent can apply to the court for an order in respect of a specific issue which they cannot agree on, such as which school the child should attend or which religion the child should practice etc. Such orders are called Specific Issue Orders.
There is also the option of applying to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order, which is an order that effectively prevents one parent from making an important decision about the child which the other parent does not agree with.
Applications for a Child Arrangement Order, Specific Issue Order, and Prohibited Steps Order can be applied for by the child’s mother, father, or anyone with parental responsibility. Other people, such as grandparents, can also apply for these orders but they need to apply and obtain permission from the court first.
For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.Back to Law Articles