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Child Arrangements Following Divorce

"A class act"

Legal 500, 2018/19

"A class act"

Legal 500, 2018/19
How we can help

We understand that divorce and separation can be very difficult to come to terms with, especially when children are involved. Settling into a new routine as quickly as possible can help, which is why agreeing the arrangements for your children is one of the most important things to decide during a divorce.

Our child arrangements solicitors have a wealth of practical and legal experience in this area and can help you with a range of issues, including:

  • Custody – where your children will live (also known as residence)
  • Access – who they can see and when (this is known as contact)
  • Financial maintenance – such as child maintenance, school fees and housing costs 
  • Relocation – whether a parent can relocate a child (both in the UK and overseas)
  • Grandparents’ rights – getting legal access to your grandchildren
  • Specific issues – such as changing a child’s surname or school

We’ll always try to help you settle your dispute through mediation or negotiation if that is appropriate – it’s quicker, less stressful for you, and can promote a good working relationship with your ex-partner for the future. However, from working with thousands of families we know that sometimes it’s not possible to mediate or even negotiate.

If your case does need to go to court, our lawyers can help with various types of court order:

  • Child arrangements order – this sets out where your child will live and spend time (what people commonly refer to as custody and access or contact and residence)
  • Prohibited steps order – this can prevent your ex-partner doing something, such as changing your child’s surname or moving abroad
  • Specific issue order – this can decide a particular issue, such as where a child is to be educated

In these situations we have the knowledge and experience to help you through the court process and to get the best outcome for you and your children. We understand that you may be anxious about how a court battle will affect your children, and we’ll do everything we can to support you and your children through the issues that arise.

The independent legal guides, Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500, recognise us as one of the UK's leading family law teams, and we have an extensive network of offices across the country. We take a no-nonsense approach to negotiating arrangements for children and will always be honest with you about your chances of success.

Whether you're in need of legal advice to find a solution that works for you, or wish to challenge a previous decision regarding your children, you can trust us to approach your case in an understanding and straightforward way. Please call us on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Child Arrangements - More Information
    • What Happens If We Never Married Or Were In A Civil Partnership?
    • If you are unmarried and have parental responsibility, then you have the same rights as any married parent.

      For same sex couples the legal situation is a little more complicated. There have been a number of changes to the law in recent years and child arrangements can depend on how the child was conceived or came into the family.

      If you’re in a same sex relationship and are worried about your parental rights, it’s best to seek advice from a family law specialist before taking any action. Call us on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    • Why Choose Irwin Mitchell?
    • We are recognised as one of the UK's leading family law teams by independent legal guides Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500, following decades of experience in dealing with complex cases of divorce, separation and child arrangements. We have dealt with many cases of high-net-worth individuals, as well as ones with an international element. In certain cases our legal teams have successful challenged and changed the law relating to family issues.

      We take a no-nonsense approach when it comes to sorting out child arrangements. We are known for robustly applying the law and will always be honest with you about your case and your prospects, and we are often hired by clients who have received bad advice elsewhere.

      For an open and honest discussion about your case, give our team a call on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

    • How Does The Court Decide Child Arrangements?
    • If you can’t agree the arrangements for your children with your former partner – either between yourselves or through mediation – then the court will need to decide for you.

      The court's main priority when deciding child arrangements is the wellbeing of your children. In most cases, they view children having regular contact with both parents as being best for their wellbeing. The court will also view contact with the child’s extended family (for instance grandparents) as important to their upbringing.

      When deciding the details of a child arrangements order, the court must take into account all of the factors listed in the welfare checklist in Section 2.1 of the Children Act. These include:

      • The child’s wishes and feelings (these are not necessarily a deciding factor)
      • The parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs
      • Any harm or risk of harm to the child
      • The child’s age, sex and background
      • The likely effects of any change to the child’s care arrangements
      • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs

      Although the court’s decision will be legally binding, you can apply to the court to change the terms of the order in the future (if your circumstances change for instance).

      We have decades of experience as one of the UK's leading family law teams, dealing with many complex separation and child arrangement cases. Call us today on 0345 604 4911, or contact us online and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

    • Will I Have To Go To Court?
    • You do not have to go to court when deciding the arrangements for your children – you do not even need to get a legally recognised agreement in place if you have agreed things amicably, between yourselves.

      However, it can be helpful to get your agreement written down in case things change between you and your former partner in the future. You might decide also to get your agreement approved by the court in a child arrangements order, so it becomes legally binding.

      Even if you can’t agree between yourselves, you may be able to reach an agreement about child arrangements using an out of court process such as mediation. This involves using an impartial third party (a mediator) to help you and your former partner discuss the issues between you, and help you negotiate. 

      The court will usually expect that you’ll have tried to negotiate between yourselves (and to have considered a process such as mediation) before it will hear your case. If you can’t settle your dispute out of court, then you will have to go through the court process where a judge will decide your case for you.

      Our specialist lawyers are experienced in child arrangements and can provide expert advice and support throughout the process. For a consultation about your case, call us on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    • Will I Need To See My Former Partner?
    • Where possible, it’s better to maintain a good working relationship with your former partner for the benefit of your children. That’s obviously easier to do if you are able to see and speak to each other about any issues that arise regarding your children’s upbringing.

      We understand that the period following the breakdown of a relationship can be difficult. Where you are finding it hard to communicate with your former partner, a process such as mediation can help you negotiate the future arrangements for your children.

      Mediation works by an impartial third party (a mediator) working with you both to help you come to an agreement. Many couples find that this process helps create the basis for a civil working relationship going forward. Our specialist solicitors can support you through the mediation process, helping you to communicate with your former partner in a productive way.

      In some cases we know that you may not wish to see your former partner for a more serious reason – such as if you have suffered from domestic violence, or you fear physical or emotional abuse either to yourself or your children. In these instances it may be possible to go through the divorce process without seeing your former partner, and also to present a case for them not to see your children if they pose a danger to them.

      We have an experienced team of lawyers, who take a caring but no nonsense approach to agreeing arrangements for children. We’ll advise you of your options and whether you are likely to have to see or speak to your former partner. Where you’re worried about seeing your former partner either in mediation or in court, our solicitors will be there to support you and ensure that you and your children’s interests are protected.

      For advice on your case, please call us on 0345 604 4911 or get in touch online and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

    • Do You Accept Legal Aid Cases?
    • Legal aid is no longer available to help parents in private disputes over child arrangements, except in certain circumstances, such as certain cases of domestic violence. Unfortunately we can’t accept legal aid cases, but if we believe that your circumstances might entitle you to receive legal aid, we will refer you to a firm that can help you. You may also be able to find a suitable firm on the government’s website


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  • Ros Bever
  • National Head of Family Law
Meet the team
Martin Loxley
Martin Loxley Sheffield

"Absolutely fantastic", "nationally known, pragmatic, and a hard negotiator."

Legal 500, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Minimise The Impact Of Our Divorce On Our Children?

If you are divorcing or separating from your partner, we know that the impact on your children will be your first concern. Parents splitting up can bring significant upheaval for children, both emotionally and in their day to day lives.

Our lawyers have good relationships with specialists such as family therapists and National Youth Advocacy counsellors. We can help you access this support if you’re worried about the impact your divorce is having on your children.

However, one of the most effective ways of minimising the impact of your divorce is to negotiate the future arrangements for your children quickly – and if you can, amicably. The court requires you to attempt to agree your child arrangements out of court in the first instance – either through mediation or the collaborative process.

There are many advantages to divorcing out of court, but in terms of your children the three main benefits are:

  1. Speed
    The process is a lot shorter than going through the court, meaning you can all settle into your new life quicker.
  2. Less stress
    It is less formal, more flexible and can be much less stressful than going to court.
  3. Better relationship with your ex-partner
    Going through a process such as mediation or collaborative divorce can help build a good working relationship with your partner going forward.

We understand that discussing practical issues relating to your children with your former partner can be difficult. You may both have different views about what is in their best interest. Our specialist solicitors are experienced negotiators and can help you to agree the legal and practical issues surrounding your children – while minimising the impact on their wellbeing.

For more information on our child arrangements services, please call us on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

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What Is A Child Arrangements Order?

A Child Arrangements Order sets out where a child will live and who they will spend time with. It effectively deals with “child custody” (residence) and “child access” (contact). When deciding a child arrangements order, the court’s first concern is what’s in the best interests of the child.

The court recognises the importance of both parents in a child’s life, so it’s unusual for a parent to get sole custody or residence of a child to the exclusion of the other parent. Your children will likely split their time between you, living with each of you on given days. The exact split of this will depend on a number of factors – but clearly the location of your child’s school and your working pattern will play a part.

Access to your children (or grandchildren) is often referred to as “contact”. As with custody, the court understands the importance of both parents in a child’s life, as well as the benefits of the child spending time with extended family such as grandparents. It is unlikely to prevent a parent having contact with a child, unless there is a concern regarding the child’s safety.

Our expert child arrangements lawyers can provide you with honest, straight-forward advice and representation. Call us on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

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What Is The Court Process For Child Arrangements?

The process below outlines the key steps required in an application to court for a Child Arrangements Order. However, it does not cover the process for agreeing child maintenance which is a separate matter.

  1. Get the court’s permission
    Parents, step parents and civil partners with parental responsibility do not need to get the court’s permission before applying. Others may need to get permission (such as grandparents or extended family members).
  2. Attempt to get an agreement out of court
    The court will normally require to you to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before considering your application. This meeting looks at whether you can resolve your dispute through mediation. If you can’t settle your dispute in mediation then you can apply to the court.
  3. Apply to the court
    Once the application had been filed at court, it will be sent to any relevant parties (such as your ex-partner). The court will then send a letter with the date for the first court hearing, which is usually 5-6 weeks after the application has been made.
  4. The first court hearing
    At this hearing the judge will discuss the issues between you and try to help you to come to an agreement. If an agreement is reached, then a court order can be made there and then, and the process ends. If you can’t reach an agreement about all of the issues, then a further hearing will be needed.
  5. The second court hearing
    The second hearing is not always needed – your case may go straight to the final hearing. However, a judge may sometimes ask for this hearing to review the position and see if the remaining issues can be narrowed further or resolved completely ahead of the final hearing.
  6. Final court hearing
    At this final hearing you will have a further chance to present your case. The judge will then give a decision. Often this decision is given at the hearing, but in complex cases it may be given at a later date.

Throughout the court process your solicitors should continue to negotiate directly with the other party, to see if an agreement can be reached. The court process can be stopped at any time if you reach an agreement, or it can be paused if you decide to try a process such as mediation instead.

For more detailed information about the court process for child arrangements, please download our fact sheet. If you’d like to discuss your case in an initial consultation, please call 0345 604 2911 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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I live in Scotland, can Irwin Mitchell help me?

Our expert family law team works with a number of trusted partners to help our clients with family law issues in Scotland.

We’ll be your point of contact and manage the entire process for you throughout. You’ll get frequent progress updates and we’ll break down any legal jargon into plain English so you’re always in the loop.

To find out more about how we can help, give us a call on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online.

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