Sharing custody of children after a divorce can be a challenging process to navigate at a very turbulent time in your life. If your relationship has ended, you’ll need to sort out with your ex-partner where your children will live and how much time they’ll spend with each of you. This is now known as making child arrangements, but used to be called ‘custody’. If you and your ex-partner decide to share the arrangements after your divorce, here are some FAQ’s to help guide you through the process.
The answer, in short, is no. Most divorced couples come to private arrangements about what happens to their children after a divorce. This includes who the children will live with and when, as well as financial arrangements. This is very common and works well for ex-partners who still have a good relationship with each other. This arrangement can be hugely beneficial to many, as it offers flexibility and provides a harmonious environment for the children. It keeps both parents actively involved in the children’s lives and decisions (such as those regarding schooling and healthcare) can be taken together as co-parents. However, sometimes informal arrangements can be deviated from and leave the other parent with more than their fair share of caring responsibilities. Citizens Advice have a wealth of useful resources including parenting plans, which can help you put in writing what you have agreed between yourselves.
The word “custody” is often used in the media and in everyday language but is not a term the we use in family law anymore. Usually, custody refers to the parent who lives with the child and makes the decisions about their care. If you’re sharing childcare arrangements (previously “joint custody”) then this means that you and your ex-partner have decided to have the child 50% of the time each and you will be responsible for the child when they are in your care. How you split that time is up to you, whether it be splitting the week in half or having the child for alternate weeks.
Sometimes ex-partners cannot agree privately for any number of reasons and will need some extra help to finalise the child arrangements. The first step for disputes is mediation, a process where the different parties can meet and discuss the disputes with the help of an impartial trained mediator. The overall aim is to reach an agreement without the involvement of the court. However, if mediation fails, the court can be asked to make a child arrangements order (previously known as contact orders and residence orders). The court has several powers at its discretion but its overwhelming consideration will be the best interests of the child. Whilst it has been colloquially observed that mothers will have a better chance at getting custody than fathers, this is not true. There is no specific law that states children should live with their mother or father after a divorce. “Joint residency” is the preferred outcome for the court, as it best serves everyone’s interests in the fairest way. But if this is impractical due to working hours or the parents living far away from each other, then a child arrangements order may be made which may state that the child will usually live with one parent but have regular contact/overnight stays with the other. Here is a comprehensive resource of all the avenues that are available to assist you to make child arrangements.
If parents cannot agree about a significant issue in the child’s life and mediation has failed, then the court can be approached to make a Specific Issue Order. Orders can be made regarding your child’s education, religion, health and surname. The court is unlikely to get involved in minor issues and these should be solved through mediation. The court is also able to make a Prohibited Steps Order, which can prevent the other parent from doing certain things such as removing the child from your care, from school, taking the child abroad, bring into contact with certain people or change the child’s surname.
If you approach the court and ask them to decide for you, then their order is binding. You (or your ex-partner) can be held in contempt of court if you refuse to co-operate with their ruling. Whilst this may seem harsh, the reason the court was involved in the first place was because the matter could not be settled privately, and therefore to move forward, both parties must abide by the order.
At Ackroyd, we are committed to delivering the highest level of service with honest, sensitive and professional advice. We know that sharing custody can be a very stressful time in your life and we’re here to help you through every stage of the process. Get in touch with our team of dedicated professionals today.