Helping you make practical and fair arrangements for your children
- Doing the best for your children will be one of the biggest concerns and challenges of your divorce or separation.
- There are many things to consider, such as parenting agreements, child maintenance and funding their private school fees or further education.
- As one of the UK’s leading family law firms, we can provide the knowledgeable, considered and reassuring legal support you need.
When a relationship breaks down, one of the most important aspects is what happens to your children, and what will be their parenting arrangements for the future. Your children are also likely to be very concerned about how a separation will impact their relationship with each parent, their schooling and their friends.
Agreeing parenting arrangements out of court
This may be the most emotionally difficult part of a divorce or separation. Although it may be hard to do, it will be far better for your children if you can reach an amicable decision on arrangements for them. If that isn’t possible, there are other processes available to help you reach a decision. One of these is mediation.
Deciding parenting arrangements through a court
If you have to go to court, the first step is the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment. If there is a serious disagreement between you, the court can appoint a CAFCASS Officer (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Officer) to prepare a report on what’s in the best interests of your children. This can take around 12 to 18 weeks. The court will usually attach a lot of importance to the CAFCASS Officer’s recommendations and in many cases, the parenting arrangements are settled on the basis of the report.
If you can’t agree to the CAFCASS recommendations, the matter will go to trial where you will both need to give evidence, along with the relevant witnesses and any experts who have been instructed. The judge will then make a final decision about the arrangements for your children.
Many parents in dispute find it helpful to establish a Parenting Plan. This sets out in detail how you both will deal withal the important issues, including:
- communication between you and your partner
- child safety
- who your children will live with
- how they’ll communicate with you when they’re not in your home
- specific child care arrangement
- funding arrangements for your children
Separated parents' information programme
This is a short group programme where you learn and discuss the best ways to parent your children while you are separated. There are several programme providers and the court frequently directs parents to attend this course as part of your court application.
Child support is not usually dealt with by the courts, and you are encouraged to reach your own agreements about maintenance for your children.
If you can’t reach an agreement, you can approach the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC), previously called the Child Support Agency. This can be quite complicated so it is well worth having legal advice.
The guidelines state that you, as the paying parent, should pay a certain percentage of your gross income as maintenance for every child from your relationship who is living with the receiving parent.
The actual sum varies according to a number of factors, such as how many children you have and how much time they spend with you. The CMEC calculates your annual gross income based on the latest information filed at HMRC, and converts it into a weekly figure for payment.
If your income is more than £3,000 per week, the receiving parent can apply to the court for a ‘top up order’. If you live abroad or your child has special needs, then the court can again make orders about the payment amounts.
Payments under the CMEC continue until your child is 16 or until they finish secondary education or the equivalent to A level.
School and university fees
If your child is at private school, you’ll need to arrange how to fund that cost, which is separate from child maintenance. Payments are usually made directly to the school.
Child maintenance orders end when a child is 18 or finishes full time secondary education. This means you’ll need to consider how to fund your children if they go to university (referred to as tertiary education). A university fees order can cover the funding of the fees charged by the university, which includes a ‘home element’ (also known as a ‘roofing allowance’), for the parent with whom the child lives during the university holidays.
Financial claims on behalf of children
The financial settlement of your divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership will include claims concerning your children. For example, if your children are mainly living with you, you can claim for housing that’s suitable for you and your children. Certain lump sum payments can be made on behalf of the children, for discrete special needs such as computers, furnishings, dental treatment, etc.
As you were living as an unmarried couple, you can make financial claims on behalf of your children under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. These can include:
- child maintenance, with an element of child carers’ allowance for the parent with care
- lump sum payments for discrete expenses on behalf of the child
- a settlement of property order
The settlement of property means the paying parent must provide a home for their child and the parent carer until the child is 18 or ends full time secondary education (although the parties can agree between them to extend the period). After this, the property reverts back to the paying parent’s ownership.
Same sex couples
If your same sex relationship has broken down, your partner who is treated as a legal parent can be responsible for maintaining your child. However, the law concerning same sex couples is complex and constantly evolving, so we strongly advise you to seek our expert legal advice.
Parental responsibility gives a father or legal parent certain rights and responsibilities regarding your child. This happens in one of three ways:
- if the father is named on the birth certificate
- you agree this between you, in which case a parental responsibility agreement will be drafted and registered
- via a court order
As a parent with parental responsibility, you have the right to be involved in the major decisions concerning your child’s life, such as where they are educated, their religion, the name by which they are known, and giving authority for medical intervention.
Sometimes a parent moves abroad following a separation. This can be devastating for the child and the parent left behind. Many parents do work together to sort out how their children will maintain the relationship with each parent and, for example, how much time they spend with them during their holidays.
A child has the right to have a relationship with both parents, and a move abroad will have an inevitable impact on the family. Sometimes parents cannot agree on an arrangement, and if this happens to you, you need to take legal advice and court action. The welfare of your child will always be the court’s primary concern.
Informed, expert and practical legal advice
As you can see, there are many aspects to think about when it comes to your child’s future after the end of your relationship. Our legal advice and support will help make sure you and your ex-partner fulfil your responsibilities; most importantly, it will also help ensure your child finds some certainty and security in a very unsettling time.
As one of the leading family law firms in the UK, we’ve amassed a great deal of experience in all aspects of helping couples to reach agreement about their children. For example, we can provide specialist help in mediation, which like all amicable routes to settlement, is always a better option for your children.
However, if you have to go to court we will ensure you complete all the necessary forms and paperwork correctly. We’ll also use our full knowledge of the law and skills in representing you, to secure crucial decisions, such as whether your children will live with you, in your favour.
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