Child Living Arrangements after Divorce or Separation
Agreeing children’s living arrangements after divorce
When you need to negotiate child living arrangements after divorce or separation it can trigger strong emotions in both parents so you might need a solicitor to help. In situations where the court becomes involved, its paramount consideration in reviewing any proposed living arrangements for a child or children following separation is the welfare of those children. As far as possible the court will look to maintain the status quo and seek an agreement on the best way for children to maintain a relationship with both parents.
We understand that every situation is different and we work with you to get the best for you and your family. Certain complicated situations may involve different arrangements being needed, especially if there is a history of domestic violence or abuse. We commonly have conversations with parents who raise concerns about the other parent making child arrangements without fair consultation.
Often parents cannot agree who should be the child’s main carer, even after negotiation. We advise many families in situations where there are disputes over how often the children should see each parent; who they go on holiday with; whether the children can leave the UK; or where arrangements change because the other parent has changed jobs and needs to move house. Our solicitors provide legal advice and look at important considerations in the negotiations, such as the impact on your child’s education if their school is closer to one parent than the other. We will explore mediation as an option with you but ultimately, we may have to make an application to the court and attend a family court hearing.
It is not in the children’s interests for one parent to deny them contact with the other. If you are concerned about the arrangements for your child or children following the breakdown of your relationship, please get in touch. If parents cannot agree about child living arrangements after divorce and mediation fails then an application to court may be necessary.
Effects of divorce or separation on children
At Cotswold Family Law we encourage you to look for child-focused solutions when you are separating. It is invaluable for both parents to consider carefully how you will work in partnership and jointly care for your children in future.
We understand that it is not always possible for parents to agree as everyone has a different parenting style. You might have different views on how your children should be looked after and how often the absent parent will see them. In all circumstances we aim to find a positive solution for separating families because a collaborative approach will minimise the effects of divorce on children.
Child arrangements (‘Custody’) at Christmas – will I get to see my children?
Firstly, it is appropriate to note that common phrases such as ‘custody’, ‘residence’, together with’ have long since been replaced with ‘Child Arrangements’ and ‘Lives with’.
It is usual, following separation, for children who live with one parent primarily (parent with care) to alternate the Christmas period between parents. While not ideal, it is a ‘child centred’ arrangement that tries to address a very difficult situation. Whilst this is a hard concept for parents to accept initially, any arrangements to be put in place should always consider what is best for the children, not the parent. Such alternating also ensures the children are able to maintain a good relationship with both parents and their extended families. It is often advisable to consider the 3 day Christmas period separately to the rest of the Christmas School holiday for that reason.
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Family Court and CAFCASS
Court cases that involve disputes over where a child will live, or reside (contested child arrangements) can be lengthy and expensive.
The court will look at a number of factors when it decides who should care for the child or children. These include the following:-
- the child’s age
- whether the child is at risk of suffering harm (domestic violence or abuse)
- the child’s wishes and feelings
The court may ask the child what their feelings are. They do this through the court’s welfare officers, who are known as CAFCASS officers. The CAFCASS officer will speak to both parents and also to the child, if the child is old enough. Once the CAFCASS officer has spoken to everyone they will prepare a report and recommend what Child Arrangements are suitable.
There are obvious disadvantages to contested court proceedings. It can be a lengthy process, it is often expensive and emotionally painful. Although any CAFCASS report is directed to be produced within 8-12 weeks, invariably it takes longer for them to complete their investigations. In the alternative, an independent social worker often produces the same report much quicker but is much more expensive.
The Judge or Magistrate are very likely to follow the CAFCASS officer’s / independent social worker’s recommendations and there will usually be a short hearing following the report. The hearing gives the opportunity for the parents to reflect on the report and reach agreement. If they can reach an agreement at this stage it removes the need for a final contested hearing.
The court can make a Child Arrangements order managing the child’s residence and that order will include arrangements for contact with the non-resident parent.