When separating, settling the arrangements for any children can be incredibly complex, emotional and challenging. We recognise that the children are the most important factor for most separating families and that can make it particularly emotional and hard to discuss the arrangements for them following the breakdown of a relationship.

When separating and discussing the future arrangements for their children, parents often refer to child law and custody and access. Solicitors and Courts do not use these terms but now refer to more child-focused arrangements in terms of who the children will live with and when they will spend time with the other parent. There are then various other things to think about that people often refer to as “child law” but there is not one specific child law. Instead, there are a whole host of laws and things to think about.

Our Family Law solicitors who specialise in child law have compiled a list of answers to commonly asked questions about child law so you can get a better understanding of what is involved and what to expect.

Who gets custody of a child in divorce in the UK?

Today, UK courts no longer award custody to one parent. Instead, they say that all children have the right to enjoy a secure and meaningful relationship with both of their parents if it is safe to do so.

With this in mind, when a divorce or separation takes place, both parents are encouraged to reach an agreement as to what arrangements work best for their children. Should the children share their time equally with both their parents? Should they spend weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other? There is no set structure. Every family is different and the arrangements need to work for their children.

If arrangements cannot be agreed upon, then you could consider mediation or ultimately, an application to the Court to determine the arrangements for the children.

Our child access solicitors are on hand to help you navigate this when you’re in the process of a divorce.

Who gets child benefits in shared custody?

If you share custody of a child, it is often the parent who holds the ‘main responsibility’ of that child who is able to claim Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit or the Universal Credit child element.

Do I need a solicitor to change my child’s name?

If you’re looking to change the name of a child under the age of 18, you can either make an unenrolled deed poll by using a specialist deed poll agency or contact a solicitor, who will be responsible for applying for an enrolled deed poll from the Royal Courts of Justice.

To change their name, be either method, you will need the consent of everyone with parental responsibility. If there is no agreement then you can apply to Court for an Order that the child’s name can be changed. This would be a Specific Issue application.

Can I refuse child access to my ex?

You can refuse access but you should be aware that this may cause them to seek legal advice and apply to the Court for a Child Arrangement Order.

The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration in an application for a Child Arrangement Order and it is felt to be in the child’s best interest to know both their parents. There is a presumption that providing it is safe to do so, children should be encouraged to have a relationship with both their parents. This includes having access to the child.

Can I stop my in-laws from seeing my child?

As it stands, there are no automatic rights for in-laws to have access to a child, and parents can deny a grandparent access to their grandchildren. If the grandparents want to see the children, and an agreement cannot be reached with the parents, then the grandparents can apply to the Court for an Order. The law does not provide an automatic presumption for grandparents to have access to their grandchildren as it does with parents.

Can a solicitor help with child maintenance?

Yes, a trusted solicitor can assist with child maintenance disputes. Many child law solicitors negotiate on behalf of the parent or facilitate negotiating between parents until a mutual decision is reached on how much maintenance should be paid and how often. The first step should always be consideration of the calculator offered by the Child Maintenance Service as unless the paying parent’s income exceeds the statutory maximum considered by the Child Maintenance Service, the calculator offers guidance on what sum should be paid.

Do you have to pay child support by law?

Parents have a legal responsibility to provide financially for their children and this is the case even if they no longer live under the same roof.

If you refuse to pay child support and you live in England, Scotland or Wales, the Child Maintenance Service can take legal action against you or an application can be made to the Court to enforce any maintenance order that may be in place.

Am I breaking the law by taking my child abroad?

If you attempt to take your child abroad without permission or a Court Order, you could face criminal charges for child abduction, which is a serious offence with serious consequences. With this in mind, if you are planning on taking your child abroad, it’s paramount that you follow the correct procedures and gain the relevant permissions. Our child travel solicitors can help you navigate this area of law.

Can I relocate with my child?

Current UK laws state that permission is not required from another parent to move a child within England and Wales. However, you do need the consent of all those with parental responsibility if you are considering changing a child’s school. Therefore, if you are thinking of moving to a different town then you will likely need consent to the change of school. If there is a child arrangements order in place stating that the child should have mid-week contact with the other parent then that may not be possible if you are moving far away.  This would require a change of the order. Again, this requires consent or an application to the Court.

Of course, the welfare of the child should always be the top priority and you should consider whether relocating is in the best interests of your child. Relocation cases can be very emotive and a carefully thought-through plan is essential. Our child law solicitors can help with this.

What are the laws on adoption in the UK?

As laid out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the main laws surrounding adoption in the UK are as follows:

  • You must be 21 or over, and there is no upper age limit.
  • There are no limitations on relationship status; you can be single, cohabiting, married, in a civil partnership etc.
  • You do not have to be a British citizen to adopt a child. However, you (or your partner, if you’re a couple) must have a fixed and permanent home in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.
  • You (and your partner, if you’re a couple) must have lived in the UK for at least 1 year before you begin the application process.

There are then other factors that need to be considered which vary depending on whether the adoption is a private adoption, e.g. the adoption of a family member or stepchild, or a public adoption where you are adopting a child currently in care.

Our adoption solicitors can help you navigate this area of law.

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