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How child custody works

Child custody arrangements can result in a great deal of stress for children. As well as seeing their parents’ relationship break down, they will need to adjust to their parents no longer living together.


What is child custody?

Child custody, also known as residence, is used to describe where a child will live after, or during, divorce.

Child custody is only one element of the arrangements for your child after divorce. The other parent may have contact, also known as ‘access’, with the child. The parent who does not have child custody is known as the ‘non-resident parent’.


Child custody during divorce: what do we need to do?

Most parents are able to come to arrangement about child custody between themselves. This is known as a family-based arrangement.

Normally, you will not need to go to court if you are both able to agree on child custody (where the child will live), as well as how much time they will spend with the non-resident parent and how you will financially support your child.


Is there anyone who can help us to agree child custody?

If you and the other parent are struggling to agree child custody arrangements, Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) has a Parenting Plan on its website which you can use to help you.

Alternatively, you could decide to go to mediation. Here, an independent third party, known as a mediator, will aid discussions between you and the other parent, with the aim of helping you to reach an agreement about child custody and contact.

Collaborative law, where you, the other parent and your respective solicitors, meet to discuss the options, may also help you to reach an agreement regarding child custody arrangements.

If you and the other parent agree about child custody arrangements, it’s not necessary to complete any official paperwork. In some instances, you may want to get your agreement made into a court order.


We can’t agree on child custody – what’s next?

If you can’t reach an agreement, you can ask a court to decide your child custody and contact arrangements. You may have to go to a mediation information meeting before applying to court, although this is not always necessary.


Child custody: court orders

There are various court orders available. What type of court order you will need will depend on what you have and haven’t been able to agree on.

A ‘child arrangements order’ will state child custody arrangements (where the child will live) and how and when contact with the other parent will take place.

If you cannot agree on a specific issue regarding your child’s upbringing, you may need a ‘specific issue order’ or a ‘prohibited steps order’.

Child custody can be one of the most emotive elements of a divorce. Seeking legal advice from a solicitor experienced in child custody, can help to prepare you for what lies ahead, so you can start planning for both yours and your children’s future.

When parents separate, many people see child custody as one of the main hurdles that they must pass when it comes to deciding what will happen to the children.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have reportedly reached a child custody agreement on what will happen to their six children now that they have separated. But what would happen if one of them wanted to relocate to the other side of the world?

Their job no doubt involves a great deal of traveling and it’s likely that their custody agreement takes this into account. Whether you are able to take your child abroad on holiday and whether you need the other parent’s permission, depends on a number of factors which are outside the scope of this article.

But what if you wanted to permanently make the move abroad with your children?

Unless you are moving with the other parent, which is unlikely if you are separated, your children’s other parent may not want you to go, as this could mean that they will see their children less.

child custody agreements

Be open with your plans

If possible, talk through your plans with the other parent. Tell them where you want to relocate to and why. Make sure you know what arrangements you’ll make for the children when you arrive, such as where you will live and where they will be educated.

If the other parent understands your reasons for moving and you can come to a mutually suitable arrangement about how and when the other parent will see the children, you are more likely to be able to come to an agreement without a lengthy court battle.


Do I actually need the agreement of the other parent?

Yes. If the other parent has parental responsibility for the children, then you will need their agreement to move abroad.


What can I do if they won’t agree?

If the other parent won’t agree to the move, you will need to apply to the courts to get permission to move your children abroad. This is known as ‘permission to remove from the jurisdiction’.


How do the courts decide if they will give permission to move abroad?

In a recent child custody relocation case, Re M (Children), the Court of Appeal emphasised the importance of the welfare of the child and went as far as to say that there was only one principle in relocation cases – that is that the welfare of the child is paramount.


How can I show the court that moving abroad is the right thing for the children?

It’s important to present a thorough, well-thought-out plan to the courts detailing everything from where the children will live to where the nearest healthcare is. You’ll also need to include plans about how the other parent will maintain contact. You may even need to offer to pay all or some of the other parent’s travel expenses, depending on the circumstances.

Making the decision to move children abroad, away from their other parent, is not a decision which should be taken lightly. Courts will look at the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration when deciding relocation cases.

Whether you or the other parent wants to take your children abroad, every situation is different. It’s a good idea to get legal advice from a solicitor who is experienced in child custody agreements.


Contact us to see how we can help you child custody agreements

For more information on child custody agreements when relocating call our team on 0845 862 5001 or email

We offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in:

Leeds Office: St Andrew House, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW

Wakefield Office: Market Walk, Wakefield, WF1 1QR

Halifax Office: Old Lane, Halifax, HX3 5WP

Huddersfield Office: Northumberland Street Huddersfield, HD1 1RL

Coventry Office: Warwick Road, Coventry, CV1 2DY

Canary Wharf Office: 25 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LB

Please contact us for more details.

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29th November 2016

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