Disputes over children

For many of us, anything which affects our children, affects us deeply too. Issues which affect a child's upbringing are usually resolved by the child's parents talking through the problem and agreeing on a solution, but this can be difficult when the parents are no longer together and often the issue to be resolved is then more fundamental, such as where the child should live and how often they should see the other parent.

When parents are unable to agree a solution between themselves, we are here to help. We can explain the principles which the court will work to and try to negotiate a solution between you and your ex-partner. If an agreement cannot be reached, we can help you to apply to the court to resolve this.

This might seem like a frightening proposition, but be assured that the Court puts the child/children at the centre of the decision making process and will not make a consent order if what is being proposed by a parent is not in a child’s overall best interest.

We can help you with:

  • Parental Responsibility
  • Child Arrangements Order
  • Prohibited Steps Order
  • Specific Issue Order

Book a free appointment

Frettens are pleased to offer a free initial appointment for all new clients. We recognise the importance for clients of deciding whether they can work with a particular solicitor and to find out more about the process and likely outcome. Our family lawyers offer positive, down to earth advice, and we hope that this initial meeting allows you the time to see this as well.

Contact us if you would like a free initial appointment with a member of our Family Team at our Christchurch office, with no obligation or charge. Call on 01202 499255 or fill out the form on the right.

Ask us at Frettens

Here's some frequently asked questions on disputes over children, if you need to ask us anything more please get in touch using the form on the right.

Q. I want to see my child, what are my rights?

A. When a child is born, the mother and the father automatically have parental responsibility (if they are married or named on the birth certificate).

However, parental responsibility does not give an automatic right to contact, now referred to as 'time with'. Time with is the right of the child, not of the parent or any other person. There is an expectation in law that where parents have separated, the parent that the child lives with, allows a reasonable amount of time with the other parent. Time with does not depend upon whether or not the child's parents were married.

Q. Do I have to let the child’s other parent have contact with them and if so how much?

A. Parents are encouraged to work together to agree on arrangements which are in the child's best interests. There is no legal definition as to what amounts to reasonable time with either parent; it will depend on the individual family and their circumstances.

If there is a court order in place relating to contact, this may state the days and times that contact should take place. This must be followed.

Q. Can I just stop time with?

A. Time with the other parent should only be refused where there is very good reason for doing so, for instance if there is genuine concern for the safety of a child. Refusal to allow a parent to have time with the child may result in them making an application to court.

If time with is refused and the non-resident parent takes the case to court, the resident parent will have to explain why time with was stopped. If there is already a court order in place for contact or time with, you may be in breach of the order by refusing time with. To avoid this, an application should be made for a variation of the existing time with order where there are valid reasons for concern.

Q. How do I get custody?

A. Custody is a term often used by parents which has not been used in legal discussions for many years.  The terms used have changed over time, ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ were terms you may have heard which were used, now the terms are 'live with' and 'time with'.  What parents usually mean is: "can they have their children live with them and can they be the parent who is in control of day to day decisions about their welfare".

It is advisable to try to reach an agreement with the child’s other parent about where the child will live and who will see them and when. If you are having trouble reaching an agreement, mediation is advisable to assist making time with and living arrangements.

Q. I want an order regarding contact with my children

A. If you are unable to reach an agreement regarding the issues of time with and living with arrangements, the courts can make orders under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989 known as Child Arrangement Orders (CAO's). If an application is made to court, they will first try and encourage the parents to reach an agreement between them. If this cannot be achieved, the court will ultimately consider and decide what is best for the child and make an order setting out a decision on your behalf. When the family court is making a decision on matters that will affect a child the courts are required to look at the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration. The court fee for making an application to court for children matters is £215.

Q. What if a parent does not comply with the order?

A. A court order is legally binding. Failure to comply with it amounts to contempt of court and a person can be committed to prison for contempt, as a last resort, but under powers given to the courts by the Children and Adoption Act 2006 the court can impose various sanctions.

A parent cannot be held in contempt though simply for failing to take up the time with given. If a non-resident parent is failing to take up time with granted by an order, it is best to think about what is in the child's best interests before making an application for enforcement of the order. If a time with order is in place, there is the potential to take the matter back to court by making an application to discharge the order. The Children and Adoption Act 2006 introduced powers for the courts in enforcing time with arrangements, which includes the power to order an unpaid work requirement, compensation for financial loss and to discharge a residence order/live with order. It is not possible to force a non-resident parent to take up time with.

Q. Can I take my child abroad without consent of the other parent?

A. No, unless you have a residence order taking a child abroad without consent is regarded as abduction.  It is sensible to seek the consent of the other parent before taking a child out of the country. Parents should be reasonable about this and provide the other parent with plenty of notice. Remember to always act in the best interests of the child.

If the parent who the child ‘lives with’ has a residence order (granted prior to 22/04/2014) or is named as the resident parent under a Child Arrangements Order, they are able to take the child abroad for up to a month without the consent of the other parent. If they intend to take the child for longer than a month, they will need written consent of every person with parental responsibility. If there is no order in place, seek legal advice before taking the child abroad.

Q. The other parent is refusing to pay child maintenance, so can I refuse their contact with the child?

A. The law treats the issues of maintenance and time with as being completely separate. You are not justified in refusing time with just because the non-resident parent is not paying any maintenance for the child.

Q. How much do I have to pay for child maintenance?

A. If you and your ex-partner have children then you are both expected to continue to pay towards the children’s costs after you separate which often means that one parent will pay the other. You can either agree what you feel is reasonable between you, or you can contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to calculate the amount for you. There are several factors that the CMS will take into account: how many children you have, the income of the paying parent, how much time they spend with the paying parent and whether the paying parent is paying child maintenance for other children. You are normally expected to pay child maintenance until your child is 16, or until they are 20 if they continue with their studies in full time education.