When a relationship breaks down, arrangements for the child(ren) are often the most emotive element to be resolved. Agreement between parents – sometimes with the help of Family Mediation – is always best, offering the greatest prospect of long term stability. But sometimes, parents cannot agree, and the court must make a decision after hearing recommendations from a CAFCASS officer.
Swindon Family Lawyer, Susan Snook, answers some common questions on children arrangements following relationship breakdown. Susan is available on 01793 615011, or by email at email@example.com.
Is it true that the court tends to favour mothers when deciding which parent should have custody?
No, this is not true. The court will always prioritise a child’s welfare above any other consideration, and if the court decides that it is in the child’s best interest to award custody to (or to live with) the mother, because, for example, the child is breastfeeding, then that is what the court will do. However, equally, it could be in the child’s best interests for the father to have custody, because, for example, the mother is neglecting the child.
At what age does a child have a say in which parent they will live with?
A child’s wishes and feelings as to where they want to live are always taken into account, but the child’s opinion as to where they want to live will only affect the court’s decision if the child is of an age and maturity to be able to have a sound opinion. In reality, this is normally around their early teens, but in at least one case it has applied to a nine-year-old.
For more information see: At what age can a child decide which parent to live with?
Does the court always follow the recommendations of the CAFCASS officer?
No, the court does not always follow the recommendations of the CAFCASS officer, although in most cases it does. This is because CAFCASS officers are accepted by the court as experts as far as a child’s welfare is concerned.
For more information see: Will a judge go against a CAFCASS report?
Can a child refuse to see a parent with contact rights?
A child can refuse to see a parent with contact rights, but the parent with those contact rights can then take the parent with whom the child is living to court for breach of any contact order currently in place.
Can one parent stop the other from seeing their child?
A parent can stop the other parent from seeing their child, but the other parent can then take that parent to court for refusing contact. This is because the court considers that it is in the best interests of the child for them to have contact with both parents, unless:
- one or both of the parents have harmed the child; or
- the child is at risk of being harmed if they have contact with one or both parents.
What is the standard contact arrangement ordered by the court?
In cases where a child lives with one parent and has contact with the other, the normal level of contact the court will award to the other parent is alternate weekends and one evening during the intervening week. School holidays are to be shared between both parents and Christmas and the child’s birthday is to alternate between the parents.
If I pay maintenance for my child who doesn’t live with me, does that give me a right to have contact with them?
No, it does not. Regardless of whether you have contact with your child, they must be fed and housed and as the parent of the child, the court considers it your duty to support them financially.
What contact rights do grandparents have?
Grandparents do not have an automatic right to contact with their grandchildren. Grandparents who are refused access to their grandchildren must in the first instance apply to the court for permission to make an application for contact.