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Child Custody & Contact Solicitors

Child Custody and Contact Solicitors

When you are separating or divorcing the first thing on your mind is your children. The expert children law solicitors at Evolve advise with a personal touch helping you resolve where your children will live and contact arrangements after your separation or divorce. If necessary, our children law experts can apply for a Child Arrangement Order to formalise child custody and contact.

Whatever your situation, the children law solicitors at Evolve Family Law can help; whether you are concerned about your children law rights, the other parent’s hostility, parental alienation, allegations of domestic violence or abuse or if one parent wants to relocate within the UK or overseas.

Separating or divorced? Worried about children law rights?

Whether you are thinking about a separation or are already divorced, you may need to sort out or review child custody and contact arrangements for your children or resolve a parenting dispute with your ex-partner. Our specialist children law solicitors, led by partners Louise Halford and Robin Charrot, have the legal expertise to support and help you.

On your side

When you are sorting out child custody and contact or stopping your ex from doing something that you don’t think is in your children’s best interests, it can feel as if you are on your own. At Evolve Family Law our children law solicitors are on your side, every step of the way, from negotiating parenting arrangements after a separation or divorce to representing you in Court proceedings for a Child Arrangement Order or Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order or Relocation Order. As  North West specialist family law solicitors, we are experts in family and children law. Our children law solicitors combine expertise and experience with empathy so you have the support you need at your side to listen and guide you.

Protecting you and your children

When it comes to your children then there isn’t anything most parents wouldn’t do to protect their children. Our expert family law solicitors are here to help protect you and your family and guide you on your best children law options.

Why choose the children law solicitors at Evolve Family Law

Louise Halford and Robin Charrot founded Evolve Family Law. They are dedicated family and children law solicitors who are passionate about the need for family lawyers to be experts in children law but also friendly and approachable; so you get the specialist legal advice you can trust delivered with the empathy and support you need.

Whether it’s worrying about children law rights or child support, Louise, Robin and the team of Evolve divorce solicitors and children lawyers are able to take the time to listen to what you want and need and use their specialist children law, divorce, and financial settlement expertise to support you.

Children Law – Your Questions Answered

When relationships break down specialist legal advice is needed from children law solicitors to sort out amicable parenting arrangements. If parents can’t reach a parenting agreement after a separation or divorce, a Court can decide how much time each parent should spend with their child (Child Arrangement Order) and resolve specific disputes, such as which school a child should attend (Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order) or whether the child can move abroad with one parent (Relocation Order).

Court orders take control away from both parents as the decision on what is in your child’s best interests is made by a Judge. Compromise and agreement mean parents are able to decide on the arrangements for their child.

Do Mums or Dads have more say over Parenting Arrangements?

Depending on who you ask, some parents and professionals say mums have more say over a child’s care and others will argue that dads do. Most parents have what is called Parental Responsibility for their children. This means legally they have equal rights and responsibilities.

There is no legal presumption about which parent a child should live with but, as a general rule, children should spend time with both parents. That doesn’t necessarily mean joint custody or shared parenting as sometimes that arrangement doesn’t meet a child’s needs or just isn’t possible because of one parent’s work commitments or the distance between homes. Often compromise and flexibility is the key in order to work around a child’s social activities and parent’s work patterns.

Is a Children Law Court Order Necessary?

If parents can agree on the arrangements for their child, the Court won’t make a Child Arrangement Order or another type of children law order. That’s because there is a legal principle that says the Court won’t make an order unless it is really necessary because, for example, parents just can’t agree on the parenting arrangements. The Court encourages parents to use family mediation to sort out the arrangements for their child.

Parenting Plans and Recording Agreement

It can be helpful to record the agreement reached over parenting arrangements in a Parenting Plan. The Children and Family Court Advisory Service have produced a helpful document here to help record the agreement.

If parents use mediation to help them reach an agreement, then the mediator will prepare a document called a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’. This document records the parenting arrangements.

Support for Children and Parents

There is a lot of support available for children and parents. Getting the right support at an early stage can be vital in helping children and parents adapt to family separation and the changes in their lives.

For children, it can be important to let the school or nursery know about a separation so that they can support the child. Some schools have a school counselling service. Other children can benefit from individual help from a therapist to help them work through their feelings.

For parents, it can be helpful to let an employer know about the separation. Some employers offer access to free counselling as part of employee benefits or are sympathetic to employees needing time to adjust to a separation. Other employers will agree to flexible working to adjust work times to fit with collecting a child from school or so that a mid-week contact visit isn’t too much of a rush before a child’s bedtime.

Children law solicitor and expert, Louise Halford, has many years of city centre experience in helping parents secure Child Arrangement Orders as well as Prohibited Steps Orders and Relocation Orders. Louise has a reputation for being approachable and going the extra mile for her clients.

Louise works with a number of child specialists and other therapists who help children and parents (either individually, as a couple or as a family, depending on individual needs and family circumstances). Louise can put you in touch for support for you or your family through the separation, or during any periods where the family needs extra help, such as the introduction of a new partner or stepchildren or just managing parenting arrangements during teenage years and adapting to changing contact needs.

Can I Stop Contact?

Most childcare professionals and Courts think it is in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents, grandparents and extended family. Courts always encourage contact with family wherever possible, unless there are really convincing reasons why it is not in the child’s best interests.

If there are concerns about a child’s physical safety or emotional welfare, contact can be supervised by friends, relatives, grandparents or at a contact centre. Contact can also be maintained by Skype and Facetime.

If a parent stops or restricts contact, for example, because they are hurt by the separation, then this can rebound on the parent. The other parent may bring an application to Court for a Child Arrangement Order. The parent is likely to get contact with their child unless there are compelling reasons why contact is not in a child’s best interests.

If you are worried about your child having contact with a parent or extended family or have had your contact stopped or restricted it is vital that you take legal advice from an expert children law solicitor on your options and the likely consequences of any steps that you may be considering taking. By talking to a children law solicitor before decisions are made you may save a lot of worry and legal costs. In some situations, urgent applications can be made to Court to stop or to restart contact with a child.

What is a Child Arrangement Order?

Most parents have heard about custody, access, residence and contact orders for children. You still hear children law professionals talking about access and contact but if a parent makes an application to Court the Judge will make a Child Arrangement Order. It is the new Court language for the old-style custody and access orders.

If parenting time cannot be agreed upon, a parent and in certain circumstances, others with Court permission can apply to the Court for a Child Arrangement Order. This order settles how the child’s time should be shared between separated parents. The Court Order can specify the times of the visits, whether the parenting time should be supervised and if so, by whom, and can include staying or overnight parenting.

How Long Does a Child Arrangement Order Last?

Once a Child Arrangement Order has been made it will last unless varied by the Court until the child is sixteen. In exceptional circumstances, the Court can make an Order for longer.

Does Contact Affect the Amount Paid in Child Support?

If the care of a child is shared equally or a parent has staying or overnight contact, this affects the amount paid in child support. When deciding on how much time a child should spend with each parent the Court doesn’t take into account how overnight parenting time will impact on child support payments but will look at the child’s contact needs.

Many parents’ try to reach an agreement on how much child support is paid as part of the divorce financial settlement and use the Child Maintenance Service formula as a guide, rather than rigidly follow the formula.

Can I Take My Child Abroad?

A parent with an Order saying that their child lives with them is allowed to take a child out of the UK for up to four weeks at a time, for a holiday, without obtaining the other parent’s permission but they can’t move abroad without either the other parent’s agreement or a Court Order.

Whether a parent needs permission to take a child abroad on holiday is surprisingly complex so it is always sensible to talk to an expert children law solicitor and check before making plans to take a child overseas on holiday.

Even if an agreement is not needed, it is always sensible to discuss holiday plans with the other parent well in advance of holiday dates so the child has time between foreign holidays or goes to different holiday resorts. It is also sensible to give flight and contact details so the other parent doesn’t worry unduly while you are on holiday.

Interested in finding more about this issue? Read our blog for further information.

Can I Take My Child on Holiday in England?

If both parents agree a child can go on holiday. If parents can’t agree on the parenting arrangements and there is a Child Arrangement Order the Court will normally say how much time a child should spend with each parent during school holidays. Normally the Court won’t set out the specific dates but will leave the parents to work out the detail, for example, the Order could say that all holidays should be shared equally or that one parent should be able to take the children away on holiday for a fortnight in the summer school holidays.

Even though a parent is able to take a child on holiday in England it is always preferable to discuss plans with the other parent, so that the child spends time at home in between separate holidays with parents.

I Want to Move to Another Part of the Country. Can My Ex-Partner Object?

There are many reasons why a parent may want to move to another part of the country, either immediately after a separation or divorce or many years later. Parents can find it hard to come to terms with the breakdown of a relationship and so want to return to live near extended family, others want to move for career reasons or because they have met a new partner. Whatever the reason, it can be really difficult for the other parent as he or she may have bought a house based on where the other parent chose to live after the separation or made employment choices based on staying in the area for the child. A move to the other end of the country or even 40 miles away may have a big impact on contact, such as the practicality of taking a child to a mid-week swimming lesson or getting the child to football practice or a ballet lesson on a Saturday morning.

If the parent who is a child’s main carer decides to move house the other parent can object to the move and the change of school. The parent could argue that the child should live with them instead or that the Court should make a Specific Issue Order that the child should live in a geographical area. These types of Court applications are always difficult as normally both parents have very genuine reasons for wanting to make a move or objecting to it. Early expert legal advice from a children solicitor is recommended as that can make a big difference on whether or not parents are able to reach an agreement and, if not, on the best strategy to achieve or object to a move. If you need help with child abduction or relocation, contact us today.

Can I Change My Child’s Name?

Even if a parent has a Child Arrangements Order, they can’t change a child’s surname unless they first obtain the written consent of every person with Parental Responsibility or permission of the Court.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is a legal concept and defines who has responsibilities towards a child. A number of people, in addition to a child’s parents, can have Parental Responsibility for a child. If a person has Parental Responsibility, they will automatically be a party to any Court application involving the child through having Parental Responsibility through the operation of the law, by Parental Responsibility Order or through a Parental Responsibility Agreement.

I Want to Stop My Child Going Abroad or Seeing My In-laws. Can I do That?

If a parent wants to stop something from happening, they can apply to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order. This type of Court Order directs that no step which could be taken by a parent in meeting Parental Responsibility for a child may be taken by the parent without the agreement of the Court.

For example, the Court can make an order preventing or prohibiting a parent from removing the child from the country and an order that the child’s passport is held in a safe place.

Prohibited steps applications can be applied to stop a variety of different things, such as a parent introducing a child to a new partner (for example, when the other parent thinks the introduction is too soon) or to stop one parent from unilaterally changing a child’s school.

It is usually sensible to discuss concerns about introducing a child to a new partner in family mediation to avoid Court proceedings. If a parent wants to stop contact with extended family, such as grandparents, they will need a good reason to stop grandparent contact. If contact is stopped the grandparent could apply to Court to see their grandchild.

We Can’t Agree on Whether Our Child Should be Privately Educated or The Child’s School

If parents can’t agree on a specific issue, such as whether the child should move to a different school or be home educated or go into private education or the choice of religion their child should follow, the Court can make the decision for the parents in a Specific Issue Order. If parents can’t agree on who should pay school fees a separate School Fees Order application can be made.

How Does The Court Make a Decision About My Child?

Whether a parent is asking the Court to make a Child Arrangements Order or another type of Children Law Order or a grandparent is asking for a contact order the Court considers exactly the same factors when deciding what Orders to make.

When a Court is determining any question relating to a child, the child’s welfare is the Court’s paramount consideration. The Court has regard to a set checklist of factors when making Orders relating to a child, namely:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child are concerned, in light of his or her age and understanding.
  • His or her physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • The likely effect on him/her in any change in his/her circumstances.
  • His/her age, sex, background and any characteristics of his/her which the Court considers relevant.
  • Any harm which he or she has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • How capable each of his/her parents and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant is of meeting his/her needs.

The Range of Powers Available To The Court.

A Court will make a decision based on what a Judge thinks is right for the child. That decision takes the control away from both parents and leaves it in the hands of the Court. For that reason, parents are encouraged to use family mediation first to see if they can reach an agreement. Taking early legal advice from a children law solicitor helps parents understand their options and the potential outcome of a Court application.

What is a Typical Children Court case?

There is no such thing as a typical Court case as the Court decides on how each Court application is dealt with, including the number of Court hearings, whether parents should prepare statements of evidence and whether experts should prepare reports. No steps can generally be taken without the Court’s approval. Prior to being able to apply for a Court Order, most parents have to try family mediation. If mediation is not suitable or parents can’t reach an agreement the mediator will sign a form to say that family mediation has been tried but hasn’t worked out. The Court can also ask parents to go to mediation during the Court proceedings.

In children proceedings, the Court may hold a series of hearings:

  • First hearing – where the parents, in advance of the first hearing, may meet the CAFCASS Officer to discuss the application and their views, to see if agreement can be reached.
  • Directions hearing – to consider the directions required to timetable the application to the final hearing.
  • Subsequent interim hearings, for example, to decide on whether a child should have contact in the short-term pending the final hearing.
  • Finding of fact hearing to determine the truth of specific allegations, for example, where domestic violence or child abuse is alleged by one parent and denied by the other parent.
  • Pre-hearing review hearing to ensure that the children law application is ready for final hearing.
  • Final hearing when a Judge makes a decision.

Sometimes only one or two Court hearings are needed. In other situations, it may be necessary to have urgent Court hearings or to ask a Judge to decide on temporary child care arrangements until the final hearing when the Court will may a long-term decision. If there are complex issues, and the need for expert reports, there may be additional Court hearings.

Medical, psychological or psychiatric assessments can be asked for in cases involving allegations of child abuse, domestic violence, parental alienation, mental health concerns or narcissistic personality disorder or other scenarios. Before such assessments can take place, the Court has to give permission for the report. Assessments of adults cannot take place without the adult’s permission and assessments of children cannot take place without the Court’s approval.

Questions

For advice on any aspect of children, law Get in touch today to see how we can help you.