If you’re getting divorced or separating from a long term partner, the impact upon any children is often the most complicated and sensitive issue. Many questions surrounding child custody will arise from your decision to go your separate ways, such as:
- Who will your children live with?
- How much time will they spend with the other parent?
- How will you make decisions about your children’s future (eg. what school they go to)?
- How will you share any financial expenditure (eg. clothes, school fees etc)?
In the majority of cases, parents will make their own informal arrangements and tackle these types of questions themselves, as they arise. Mediation and collaborative family law can prove useful if there are minor disagreements; these methods are designed to help parents reach a consensus. Informal agreements are also the norm when it comes to child maintenance payments – and these are known as ‘family-based arrangements’.
What happens if both parents can’t agree?
If you are unable to agree on the future of your children with your ex-partner (eg. because the relationship ended due to domestic violence) then it may be necessary to apply to a family court. They have the power to grant a range of orders, including on the following types of matter:
Which parent should children live with (and other general matters)?
A ‘child arrangements order’ is the primary decision made by a family court regarding children following a divorce or separation. This order deals with the core issues such as who the children will live with, visiting rights for the other parent (or grandparents) and the full range of contact rights.
Which school should children attend (and other specific matters)?
When it comes to more specific issues where parents wish to exercise their parental responsibility (see more below) – such as determining the type of school your child should attend – this will be covered by a ‘specific issues order’. If, for example, you have different views on religious schooling from your ex-partner (eg. you want your child to attend a Catholic school but your ex prefers secular education) the court may have to impose a decision using this type of order. You can also seek a ‘prohibitive steps order’ which essentially prevents the other parent from exercising their parental responsibility (such as taking your child abroad on holiday).
What is parental responsibility?
You are likely to have various rights and responsibilities as a parent, known as parental responsibility. Mothers all automatically have parental responsibility, as do most fathers married to the mother or listed on their child’s birth certificate. It includes a duty to protect and maintain your children, provide them with a home, and a right to decide on their schooling and medical treatment or take them on holiday abroad.
Parental responsibility does not cease upon divorce. However, if you did not have parental responsibility and are separating, you may want to obtain it. If the other parent agrees, this can be done using a parental responsibility agreement.
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