How Do I Ensure That My Child Lives With Me?
In the majority of situations, parents can agree between themselves where the children will live. If there is no dispute, then an application to Court is not required. If you are struggling to reach an agreement, there are certain options that should be considered, such as negotiation, mediation and other forms of dispute resolutions.
If all else fails, or if the circumstance of the case require an urgent decision, an application to Court for a Child Arrangements Order may be necessary.
For initial advice get in touch with our Family Law Solicitors.
Disputes in relation to the Arrangements for your Children
When a relationship ends in separation or divorce, there can be a difficult dispute in relation to where the children live and who they spend time with. If you are in this position, then you are likely feeling extremely anxious about what the future might hold.
Perhaps you are the primary care-giver and you want to exclude the other parent entirely, whether due to the threat of harm to the child, domestic violence or otherwise. Alternatively your ex-partner could be threatening to fight you in Court for an order that the children live with them and you are concerned your children could be taken away, or that you will no longer be allowed to see them. It could be a situation whereby your children currently live with the other parent.
Child Arrangement Orders
Whatever the nature of your dispute, it’s important to get legal advice from a Family Solicitor that is tailored to your situation. There is a lot of information on the internet, or from people who have had experiences. This can be confusing, misleading and incorrect for your circumstances.
The first thing to know is that the correct term to use in discussions is the ‘Arrangements for the Child’.
Historically they were referred to with the terms ‘custody’ and ‘access’ or ‘residence’ and ‘contact’. These issues were previously dealt with by Residence Orders and Contact Orders, but these have been replaced by a Child Arrangement Order.
This is a Court order which sets out:
- Where a child should live
- When and where a child should spend time with each parent
- What other types of contact can take place, such as phone calls between the child and the non-resident parent
Options Available for Child Arrangements Orders
When making a decision the Court will always consider the best interests of the children. It doesn’t matter how much you dislike your ex – your children have a right to a relationship with both parents. So, if your children would benefit from having both parents in their lives, then the Court will always encourage that.
Of course, there are times when it’s not suitable for a child to spend time with a parent, perhaps because there is a risk of violence or child abduction. In these situations, the Court may put arrangements in place such as their time should be supervised, or that contact should be stopped altogether.
The Court often need further information before they can make any decision.
To get a Child Arrangement Order, you must first try to resolve the matter outside of Court. Unless there are extenuating circumstances such as domestic violence, (in England and Wales) you must both attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). At this meeting, you will learn more about mediation and whether it could help you.
If so, you must attempt to reach an amicable solution by way of mediation. This involves discussing the dispute with your ex, with the help of a specially trained mediator. Often people find that they’re happier with an agreement reached at mediation due to their involvement in reaching the agreement. It also is often a significantly cheaper and more time-efficient way to resolve the issue.
However, if mediation isn’t successful or suitable, you can proceed to apply for a Child Arrangement Order.
Nevertheless, this is really seen as a last option. The Courts do not like to intervene in child arrangements if possible, and will do everything in their power to help the parents reach an agreement.
Getting a Child Arrangement Order
If you do apply for a Child Arrangement Order, the Court will involve the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). A representative from CAFCASS will speak to each parent and identify any notable issues, such as safeguarding concerns. You may also be asked to meet with CAFCASS in another attempt to resolve the dispute. CAFCASS will also obtain information in relation to any police involvement or children’s social care involvement regarding the family.
Depending on the circumstances, there will follow a series of Court hearings and there could be directions of the Court including but not limited to; the completion of necessary courses, further report of CAFCASS or a Local Authority and drug and alcohol testing. During the Court process, you’ll always be encouraged to find a mutually agreeable solution. If this is not successful, there will be a final hearing. The Court will hear evidence from each side, and consider CAFCASS’s recommendations. A Judge will then decide the outcome.
This decision is based on:
- The wishes of the children, if their age and understanding allows
- The children’s needs
- The likely effect a change in circumstances would have on the children’s lives
- The children’s age, sex and background
- Any risks the children face
- The ability of each parent to meet their children’s needs
Our Family Solicitors Can Help You
We understand that being involved in a dispute around the arrangements for your children is extremely fraught.
Our Family Solicitors are here to act on your behalf, and we can use our legal expertise to explain to you the procedures, guide you through the options and likely outcomes and secure the best outcome for you and your children.
For initial advice call our Family Law & Divorce Solicitors
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