It’s hard to put a price on seeing your children. It is also hard for a children law solicitor to put a price on the cost of a child contact Order or child arrangement Order. In this blog expert children law solicitor, Louise Halford, takes a look at the cost of a child contact Order.
Are child contact Orders worth the cost?
Whether a child contact Order is worth the cost depends on who you speak to. Recently, ‘I am a celebrity’ winner and former EastEnders actor, Jo Swash, reportedly said that the money he spent in legal fees to get an Order to see his eldest son was ‘the best he’s ever spent’.
We don’t think Jo Swash likes paying lawyers, it was more that he felt that it was only when his children law solicitors secured a child contact Order for him that he got to develop the sort of relationship that he wanted with his eldest son.
It is undoubtedly always difficult when a couple split up and one person forms a relationship with someone who already has children or the new couple go on to have children together. The feelings of hurt can make it harder to agree contact arrangements and prompt court proceedings to secure a child arrangement Order so a parent can get to see their child.
We don’t know exactly why Jo Swash and his ex-partner ended up in court or why they were not able to agree the child contact arrangements via children law solicitors or in family mediation.
What children law solicitor, Louise Halford, does say is that she always tries to discourage children law court proceedings because of the cost ; to your purse and to your emotions. That may sound very odd coming from an experienced children lawyer. However, if you are able to reach a compromise and agree the contact it is normally better for both parents and the child. That is the case however much money you have available to spend on a child arrangement Order application.
However, there are some situations where it is best to spend money on a child custody or contact Order, whether that is a child arrangement Order, specific issue Order or prohibited steps Order. For example:
- One parent is refusing to agree to any contact.
- A parent is alienating the child against the absent parent so the child is being turned against you.
- You are concerned that the child is at risk of harm (physical or emotional) by either living with or having contact with the other parent.
- You are worried that the child may be taken overseas to live against your wishes and that you won’t get to find the child if they disappear in a country that isn’t a signatory to the Hague Convention. You may need a prohibited steps Order to prevent child abduction and to protect the child.
- You were in an abusive relationship and you fear that your former partner is using contact with the child as a means of seeing you and exercising control over you. Their behaviour may make you feel at physical risk or may have such an impact on your emotions that it affects your parenting.
- One parent is refusing to change the contact arrangements. For example, refusing to let an older child stay overnight with you or go on holiday with you and your new family.
There are many other reasons why you as a parent may have no alternative other than apply to the family court for a child arrangement Order to sort out the child custody and contact arrangements but it is best to get independent and impartial children law advice before you make an application to court.
The cost of a child contact Order
It is difficult for any expert children law solicitor to tell you how much a child contact Order will cost you, however transparent a pricing structure they adopt. That is because in some situations the threat of starting court proceedings is sufficient to get a parent the sort of shared parenting or contact arrangements they want. In other scenarios, a parent can make allegations that the other parent isn’t expecting and firmly disputes. If those allegations go to the heart of whether a child should live with one parent or why a child should have restricted or no contact with the other parent then they need to be investigated by the court. This could involve a series of court hearings including a finding of fact hearing.
At a fact finding hearing a family judge will decide if they can make a finding about an allegation. The standard of proof is lower than at a criminal hearing but a family court finding can have significant consequences for the current children law application and any future applications. After any findings have been made at a fact finding hearing the judge will then hold a separate hearing to look at what Orders are in a child’s best interests. For example, a judge might find that domestic violence occurred in the parental relationship but that the child is not at risk of domestic abuse and contact can be managed in a way that means the parents don’t come into direct contact with one another.
The costs of a children law custody or contact application can’t or should not be measured in purely financial terms. If there is a court hearing with both parents giving evidence it may further polarise the parents or it may create additional stress for an older child who is aware of the court application, possibly because they have been interviewed by a CAFCASS officer appointed by the court to find out the child’s wishes and assess what orders are in the child’s best interests as sometimes what a child wants (or says they want if there is an element of coaching) may not actually be best for the child.
An expert children law solicitor can help you look at things from the perspective of a family judge so you have the understanding you need about child custody or contact proceedings to decide if they are worth it to you or that you have the confidence to reach an agreement in family mediation or during solicitor negotiations.