Child residency changes

For many reasons parents who are separated or divorced may seek to change the living arrangements for their child and if this is a decision which can be reached amicably between both parents then there is no need to go to court to formalise it. It can however be beneficial to discuss the situation with a family solicitor so that you are aware of all of the options and implications.

It may be that a parent is looking to relocate overseas, has a very demanding job and is struggling with childcare, is remarrying or goes on to have more children with a new partner…circumstances and relationships change over time, and the recent lockdown may have led some parents and their children to question the arrangements they have in place.

If an agreement cannot be reached or if there has been a change in circumstances which means a parent wants to challenge the existing arrangements and if mediation has not been successful, then an application for a Child Arrangements Order will determine arrangements for the child.  The order will bring stability to the child’s situation and this will be the priority of the Court.

The court can make an order as to where the child shall live, and also with whom the child shall spend time.  These terms replace the previous ones of residence and contact. 

The resident parent will have the responsibility for the day to day decisions which are about the upbringing of the child and there should be limited interference from the other parent.  This will include decision making about their daily routine such as what they eat or wear etc.   However, the emphasis should be very much on co-parenting, and working together for the best interests and welfare of the child.

There can be differences over elements of the child’s upbringing, the court can step in to help resolve these issues, referred to as a Specific Issue Order.  Typically, these are about holidays or education, but could be about anything including religious issues or gender identification.

It can also be necessary to take action to stop a particular action taking place, this would be a Prohibited Steps Order typically concerning the removal of the child from the country or from moving far from the other parent.

As the child ages, the court will take their views into account more and more.  However, with younger children the court may well ask a court welfare officer to investigate the situation and make a recommendation taking into account the views of all parties.

Typically, most of these cases involve the biological parents of the child but there are some instances where it might concern a parent who isn’t the biological parent.  For example, the grandparents or other relatives of a child might decide to apply for a child arrangement order if one or both of the child’s parents have passed away or are believed to be an unfit parent.  A person who does not have parental responsibility for a child will require the consent of the court to make an application.

At all times it is sensible to remember that the best interests and welfare needs of the child will be the court’s overriding priority and the courts want parents to resolve issues without their involvement wherever possible.

If you would like to discuss issues around where a child lives contact Julie Hobson –