Children and Parenting

Streathers family law team are highly experienced in assisting with all aspects of children law, including residence, contact, financial provision, adoption and guardianship.

In all matters relating to vulnerable parties such as children, it is essential to ensure that  you get the right legal advice from the right lawyer. Please get in contact to find out how we can help.

A child arrangements order determines and formalises where a child will live. These orders are often also described as residence orders as this was the legal term and label used by the courts until fairly recently.

The Children and Families Act 2014, which came into force in  April 2014, replaced contact orders and residence orders with child arrangements orders. These cover the following matters:

  • Who a child should live with, have contact with and spend time with;
  • When a child is to live, have contact and spend time with that person.

The child or children’s welfare is the most important factor in determining issues of contact or where a child should live and the child’s best interests are given paramount importance by the courts.  When the courts are making a decision around a child’s welfare, the starting point is a “welfare checklist” which is contained in the Children Act 1989.

Residence and contact issues – mediation first

Before applying to court for a child arrangements order, you are required to attend a meeting with a mediator (called a mediation information and assessment meeting, or a ‘MIAM’), unless you qualify for an exemption. It is often advisable to attend mediation with the other party to see if suitable arrangements can be agreed outside of the court procees, as if successful, this will save you both considerable time and money on legal fees.

Act reasonably and put the children first

Before an application is made to a Court it is strongly advisable to be seen to have attempted to resolve any concerns or issues. If relations are strained or there are genuine concerns about more contact, different contact or contact at all, it is still important to attempt to resolve these. Good family lawyers not only provide sound legal advice but can also help to mediate and/or clarify each party’s intentions. If you are a parent or guardian and a contact request is made, simply refusing or ignoring this is not a sensible idea unless there are prevailing safeguarding or child welfare concerns. Similarly, an application to court without any attempt to explain or agree with the primary care giver is also ill-advised.

Who can apply for contact?

Applications can be made not only by a child’s parents but also a step-parent, grandparents or by anyone who has parental responsibility in law relating to the child.

Making an application for child contact or residence

There is a court fee payable and a formal application process must be followed in order to ask the court to consider issues relating to child contact.

What are the types of contact?

Direct contact–  this is contact with the child in person, but in certain situations such contact may be subject to supervision from a third party or by social services.

Indirect contact – means contact other than face to face. There may be good reasons why a court will only allow indirect contact, perhaps at least for a period of time. Practical reasons can include where a parent lives a long distance away or they may be in prison. A period of indirect contact may be appropriate also if the child has not had contact with that parent for a long time.

Regrettably, it is not uncommon with contact orders for there to be friction between the adults. Another scenario is where a parent has been unreliable and let the child down in the past, or perhaps not complied with previous agreed residence or contact arrangements or court orders. In these situations, contact orders may be very specific about times, dates, places and other aspects to seek to ensure compliance and consistency for the child.

Breach of the terms of a Child Contact Order

A failure to comply is a serious matter and can open up the possibility of imprisonment or a fine.

Making decisions about children after divorce  – specific issues

It’s not unusual for parents to be able to agree on the basics of where the child will live, perhaps mostly with one parent and the other parent at weekends. It’s important to understand that residence orders can also cover other issues which overlap with more contentious children related applications. For example, where a parent is the primary carer  who the child lives with, that parent can legally go abroad with the child for up to a month without having written consent from the other parent. However, it is good parenting to notify the other parent and agree arrangements in advance.

Issues which can be particularly contentious and problematic can include :-

  • where the children will attend school and what type of school;
  • if parents will in future live in different countries;
  • religious upbringing.

If you need legal advice in relation to the arrangements for your child or children, please do get in contact with us. Our family law specialists in London have significant experience with all aspects of children law and our solicitors will be happy to discuss your situation and provide you with advice and guidance.

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