Disputes about who a child should live with and spend time with

Parents (and other carers) are expected to agree how arrangements for their children will be managed if they don't live together i.e. who their children will live with and what contact they will have with their other parent (or anyone else).

If you can't agree, you should try and reach an agreement without going to court, possibly with the help of a solicitor or a mediator.  If not, then you can apply to the family court for a child arrangements order.  This can set out who your child lives with, what kind of contact they have with anyone else, and also who has parental responsibility. Find out more about how the court process works.

Some adults (including legal parents and their spouses) are entitled to apply for a child arrangements order.  Others will need to ask the family court for permission to apply as part of the application (and before giving leave, the court must consider their 'connection' with the child and other issues).

How does the court reach a decision?

There are no set formulas as to how children should spend their time and each case will be considered individually, with the welfare of the child being the only (very broad) test.  What is best for a particular child might be equal shared care, alternate weekend contact, or occasional stays or visits, depending on their age, family circumstances and lots of other issues.  However, generally the court will expect to enable the child to have a meaningful relationship with both (or all) their parents.

To help the court work this through, it will consider the 'welfare checklist'.  Any or all of the following factors can be given whatever weight the court thinks is appropriate:

  • the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child (considered in the light of his/her age and understanding)
  • the child's physical, emotional and educational needs
  • the likely effect on the child of any change in his/her circumstances
  • the child's age, sex, background and any other characteristics which the court considers relevant
  • any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • how capable each of the child's 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.

The court has a duty to consider whether making an order will benefit the child - the 'no order principle' says that in most circumstances it is better to get parents to agree rather than to impose an order on them.

Resolving children disputes in modern families

Particular issues can arise in situations where children are not being raised in traditional families.  Find out more about:

Disputes between same-sex parents

Known donor and co-parenting disputes

Surrogacy disputes

Disputes between parents through surrogacy who have separated

Disputes involving transgender parents

Have we answered your question? Would you like advice on your personal circumstances?

Email us at hello@ngalaw.co.uk or call on 020 3701 5915 and we will explain how we can help.