Family Lawyer Lucy Jones answers some common questions on child arrangements following relationship breakdown.
Lucy is available on 01225 755656 or by completing the Contact Form below.
When a relationship breaks down, arrangements for the children are often the most emotive element. 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 decide after hearing recommendations from a CAFCASS officer.
Is it true that the court favours mothers when deciding which parent should have custody?
No, this is not true. The court always prioritises 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.
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 the court accepts CAFCASS officers as experts as far as a child’s welfare is concerned.
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 the 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 first apply to the court for permission to apply for contact.