How does a court decide child arrangements after separation?

In cases where parents cannot agree on child arrangements after separation, divorce or dissolution, they can turn to the court to help them decide what is best for their children. 

It should be noted that the court is a last resort and ideally, you should try to come to agreements on child arrangements between yourselves, even if this means using mediation to help. 

What are child arrangements?

Child arrangements refer to all decisions surrounding the child such as, where the child should live, contact more generally, when they should spend time with each parent, and who should contribute to child maintenance. 

What is a child arrangements order?

In instances where child arrangements cannot be decided amongst parents, an application for a child arrangements order must be made before the court can assist. 
What does the court consider when making a child arrangements order?

The court will always put the child’s safety and welfare first when making any decisions regarding the child's arrangements. 

In fact, as part of the process, in some cases, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) will assess whether there are any safeguarding issues by talking with the parents, and the child, and understanding the home environment and situation. The court may ask Cafcass to produce a report that outlines the needs of the child from a professional and independent perspective.

In addition, among many factors, the court will also consider the child’s wishes, their emotional, physical, and educational needs, their age and background. For example, if a child has been attending the same school and one parent lives close to that school and the other parent does not, the court may consider it appropriate for the child to live with the parent closer to their school throughout the week. The court is likely to look for arrangements that promote stability and ensure that parents are able to manage the child’s needs. 

The court will also consider what current arrangements are in place for the child, for instance, if the child is predominantly living with one parent and then visits another at the weekend, the court may be inclined to follow the same arrangement unless there are any safeguarding concerns. 

If any allegations are made by either parent regarding welfare concerns or domestic violence, for example, the court may investigate this further to discover whether there are any risks or whether alternative arrangements must be made. 

The judge will weigh up all these different factors and decide what arrangements would be in the child’s best interests. 

What happens next?

The court will arrange a directions hearing to decide whether an agreement can be made. Once the terms are agreed upon, the judge will confirm this.

If you need assistance with child arrangements, please contact one of our experts for further advice on how we can help you.

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