Divorce is an emotional and complicated process, especially if children happen to be involved. Partners will want the best for their children, but that doesn’t stop disagreements about care arrangements that can leave a child feeling like they’re stuck in the middle of it all. It’s important to first acknowledge that you are dealing with children who may already be feeling a heavy emotional impact due to their parents separating.
The majority of the time, it’s the parents of the children who will decide together about how much time children spend with each of them. Parents know what is best for their children, so working together to formulate child care arrangements is the best option on the table. However, if required then mediation or collaborative law are also good options. Going to court should always be the option of last resort. In this case, it will be the judge who makes the final decision on child care arrangements.
What will a court do about divorce child care arrangements?
In the past, solicitors will have talked you through the legal arrangements of ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’. ‘Residence orders’ means deciding where a child will live, which is sometimes referred to as custody (although this is something different and no longer exists as a legal concept). ‘Contact orders’ or ‘access’ were designed to set out the time a child can spend with the parent they no longer live with. Both these legal concepts no longer exist. Instead, they have been replaced by something called ‘child arrangement orders’.
A ‘child arrangement order’ deals with arrangements related to whom a child is to live with, spend time with or otherwise have contact with. Basically, it combines the old ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’ together into one legal concept.
Can a child decide on who to live with?
The law in England and Wales states that a child is able to decide on which parent they want to live with from the age of 16 unless there is a specific Court Order in place that says otherwise. However, it is up to you as the child’s parents whether you want a child under 16 to make the decision of who they want to live with. There is no set age in which a child is allowed to say where they want to live, there is just no legal obligation for them to do so until they reach the age of 16.
Just remember that the younger the child is, the more likely it is that they don’t fully understand the situation. The older the child is, the more likely it is that their views will hold sway if the decision has to go to court.
Where do I go from here?
If you and your partner are unsure as to where to begin, you can be assured that there is plenty of support available to help you overcome difficulties in agreeing on child care arrangements. A Parenting After Parting workshop may be something you should consider.
Of course, if you’re unsure of anything, speaking to a family solicitor for legal advice is always an excellent choice too.