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As a parent going through a divorce or separation, the journey can present emotional and legal complexities, even more so when children are involved.

Obtaining the necessary knowledge and assistance is crucial in making well-informed decisions that prioritise the best interests of your children. Your initial step should be to understand your rights and responsibilities.

Understanding Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility encompasses a parent’s legal rights, duties, and obligations toward their child. This includes the duty to provide for the child’s needs and protect their well-being, the right to make decisions about their upbringing, such as their education, religious upbringing, and medical treatment, and the obligation to provide financial support and a safe, nurturing environment. These responsibilities are crucial for the child’s well-being and development and are typically established and enforced by family law courts.

Amongst other things, you have a primary responsibility to:

• Provide a home for the child
• Protect and maintain the child

It’s important to understand that parental responsibility is not automatically granted to both parents. In most cases, mothers are automatically given parental responsibility. Fathers, on the other hand, share this responsibility if they are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if they are listed on the birth certificate (for children born after December 1, 2003).

Both parents are equally respected and have the same rights by law. If you feel your rights are being disregarded, we advise you to seek legal advice.

Types of Child Arrangement Orders

Courts will always look for arrangements that are in the best interest of the child and that will allow the child to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents.

There are two types of orders that were previously known as residence/custody, these are:

• Live with – this is where a decision is made about who the child will live with.
• Spend time with – this would determine how long and when a child would see the parent that they do not live with.

There are additional orders that courts can make, such as:

• Prohibited Steps Order – this would prevent a parent from acting in a certain way or to stop them from doing something, such as taking a child to live abroad.
• Specific Issue Order – this would detail decisions made about the child’s upbringing, such as religion or education.
• International child maintenance – this would support a parent who has their ex-partner living abroad in the case that they would cease making maintenance payments.

Making an application for a Child Arrangement Order

Applying for a Child Arrangement Order is a multi-stage process that involves several key steps. It is crucial to become familiar with the complete process, which can be found here:

Before going to court to decide on child arrangements, all parties involved are required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). In this meeting, a competent mediator will evaluate the potential for reaching an agreement using alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation. If a consensus cannot be reached, the matter may proceed to the courts, where subsequent hearings will ensue. We strongly advise seeking specialised legal advice from an experienced family law solicitor from the outset.

What will the Courts consider?

In a Child Arrangement Order hearing, the court prioritises the child’s welfare above all else. During these proceedings, the court typically refers to the Welfare Checklist, a crucial part of Section 1 of The Children’s Act 1989. This checklist outlines several factors that are taken into consideration, including:

• The child’s wishes.
• The child’s emotional, physical and educational needs.
• If the child has experienced or is at risk of experiencing neglect or abuse.
• The ability of the parent to provide for the child and meet their needs.
• The impact of any changes on the child.
• The court’s limitations in altering the child’s custody arrangements.

The role of Cafcass

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) advocates for the interests of children and young people in family court. Providing independent advice to the court regarding what is best and safe for children, their focus is on the children’s needs, wishes, and feelings, ensuring that their voices are heard and are central to the family court’s decision-making.

If you need assistance with a child custody matter, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our experienced team would be happy to speak to you.