When a married or civil partnered couple separate, agreeing on how their children are going to be cared for can be one of the most challenging aspects of the divorce process. In many cases parents are able to agree on a joint custody arrangement by which they share child care equally. However this kind of arrangement is not always feasible or even desirable and the courts can be asked to make a decision on behalf of the parents if they are unable to reach one amicably.
When they are asked to consider how the care of the child should be shared between the two parents, the court will always prioritise the welfare principle above all other considerations. This means that the child’s best interests (or welfare) will always be the overriding concern for the court.
A residence order must be issued by a court and decides which of a child’s parents they will live with. This parent will then be referred to as ‘the resident parent’ and the other will be ‘the non-resident parent’. A separate agreement will be drawn up regarding how the non-resident parent may interact with the child.
Where the child is resident with just one parent, an agreement on contact should be drawn up that sets out how and when the non resident parent may contact their child. If the parents are unable to agree on this matter, the courts can intervene. The courts will favour a child having regular contact with both parents unless there is a good reason for them not to.
Parental responsibility (PR) is the term given to the rights enjoyed by the parent of a child. If you have PR, you have the right to decided how your child will be raised. This includes their religious upbringing, where they will be educated and all other pastoral issues.
A biological mother will naturally have parental responsibility for her child. If the father is married to the mother when the child is born, or shortly after, he will have parental responsibility as well.
Unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility but they can be granted it either by registering their name on their child’s birth certificate or by signing a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and filing it at court. If you and the mother of your child are unable to agree on the terms of your parental responsibility, you can apply for an order to be issued by the court which will grant you PR.
There are many reasons why a parent may wish to change their child’s last name. They may have remarried and want their child to take their new partner’s name, or they may want their child to bear their maiden name. Changing a child’s name requires the permission of both parents. If there is a dispute, the courts will intervene.
You and your former spouse may have started raising your child in your spouse’s faith and you may, now you are separated, wish to convert your child to your own religion. Alternatively, you could be firmly against your former spouse converting your child and want to prevent them from doing so. Our family solicitors have extensive experience in dealing with these matters and have acted for clients in some of the area’s leading cases.