Legal Advice – Children

Relationship breakdown and children

During the emotional time of relationship breakdown it is not unusual to forget about how your children are feeling. Perhaps the most important thing to recognise is that relationship breakdowns are a process, not a single one-off event. Children are affected by their parents’ separation for the rest of their lives, not just for the few months while the separation is taking place. From now on, all of family life will always be different.

Family Law – Divorce Procedure

Most parents come to an agreement about the arrangements for their children although difficulties do arise frequently, especially when emotions are running high. These voluntary arrangements between parents are more likely to succeed in the long run than those imposed by the courts. So it is generally understood that the courts will not intervene unless it is in the best interests of the child. Your children, like the courts, would prefer you both to do your utmost to put them first, to see things through their eyes. Mediation may be offered as an alternative to the court process and details are given below.

Children in the Divorce process

It is no longer necessary to file details about the arrangements for your children when filing for divorce. If these are agreed by both of you there is no need for the to interfere although you can ask for the court to help at any time. If agreement has not been reached either parent may seek the assistance of the Court in settling points of issue between parents. Before an application can be made it is necessary for there to be an attempt to agree matters through Mediation. Even if arrangements are agreed but your relationship with the other parent remains difficult you may wish to consider having the agreement lodged with the Court to ensure that the terms of agreement can be enforced and to avoid further conflict.

What happens if things go wrong or you can’t agree

The first stage is for an application to be made on a standard form giving brief details about the background.

The court will then usually fix a brief hearing to decide how the application should move forward. At court, there may be an opportunity for you and the other parent (if the dispute is between the child’s parents) to discuss the problem with a CAFCASS officer.

The judge will make orders about how the case is to proceed, perhaps asking a court welfare officer to prepare a report and deciding what evidence is needed for the final hearing.

If a CAFCASS officer is asked to prepare a report, then he or she will arrange to meet you and the other parent separately, and sometimes with the child, before preparing the report. This is normal practice in residence disputes.

The judge can also make interim orders about the children to regulate arrangements until the final hearing.

Both parents (or whoever else is a party to the dispute) must attend court. You should not bring your child with you to court unless the court directs you to do so.


There are many types of orders which the Children Act 1989 empowers the court to make. The main ones for parents to consider are set out below.

Orders may be made about children under 16 upon:

  • either parent applying to the court;
  • an application by others (eg grandparents) in specific cases; or
  • the court itself without anyone making an application.
  • The orders which regulate private arrangements for children are:
  1. a residence order;
  2. a contact order; and

Other orders

  • prohibited steps – used to prevent a specific course of action taking place.
  • specific issue orders – used to decide a specific question about the upbringing of a child

These orders are set out in section 8 of the Children Act 1989 and are sometimes referred to as the “section 8 orders”.

The court can also make a parental responsibility order – These orders are usually made to give an unmarried father parental responsibility.

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