Divorce and children

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Advice and sources of help if you are getting divorced and have children.

If you and your partner can't decide who should look after the children and what contact the other partner will have, the court will decide for you.

If you separate informally, you may not need to go to court.  However, the court can make arrangements about the children if you cannot agree in this type of case.

Arrangements for the children

The court will only grant a divorce when it's looked at the arrangements for the children.  You'll need to:

  • give the names of all dependent children (children under 16, or under 19 if in full-time education).  This includes children of both partners together, adopted children, step-children and any children who've been treated as part of the family. It doesn't include foster children;
  • say where the children will live and who they'll live with; and
  • say how they'll be supported financially.

If both parents are happy with the arrangements, the court won't make decisions about the children.  This only happens when there is a disagreement about arrangements.  The court will then decide what's in the children's best interest

If you don't want the court to decide, a mediator might be able to help you come to an agreement.  The National Family Mediation Service has advice about family mediation.  To find a family mediator, you can use their site or the Ministry of Justice search engine.

If you need to go to court to make arrangements, speak to a family law solicitor or the CAB.

Court decisions about children

If you can't decide, the court can decide who the children should live with, who the children should have contact with, and what sort of contact this should be.

Who the children will live with (residence order)

This may be made in favour of:

  • one parent – the child must live with that parent; or
  • both parents – meaning one order for both parents (even if they don't live together).  This will say how much time the child will live with each parent; or
  • each parent – meaning a separate order for each parent saying how much time the child will live with them.

What kind of contact the children will have with you or your partner (contact order)

This may include conditions and may say what kind of contact you can have.  The court can also make orders between children and other relatives and friends.

The Coram Children's Legal Centre has free fact sheets about contact with children.  The Rights of Women website also has a guide to child contact

If contact with the children needs to be on neutral ground, the National Association of Child Contact Centres has child contact centres and services throughout the UK

I'd like to make an agreement with my partner about the children.  Where can I get more help and advice?

Advicenow has information about how to make arrangements about your children when you split up with your partner.

If you're a dad and splitting with your partner, fathers-rights has advice on your rights after separation.  Separated Dads also gives information on separated fathers' rights.

Published: 27 July 2012 - 2:54pm