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What do I do when my relationship breaks down but we have children?

Published on 23 December 2022 | Modified on 8 February 2023

Written by Lana Jones

Even where there’s been a breakdown of the relationship, you do not need to apply to court in order to maintain and enjoy contact with your children.  If there are no issues in relation to the contact you are having with your children, then the court do not need to make an order and it is typically far better for you as parents to reach an agreement about what is best for your children.

However, in some situations when a relationship breaks down communication can become strained and this can effect the contact you enjoy with your children.

Parenting Plan

A good option for some parents is to record their agreement in a Parenting Plan as this can cover far more issues than a court order and provide clarity to both parents about how they will co-parent their child now and in the future.

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If contact breaks down, what can I do about this?

Do you have parental responsibility?

Mother’s automatically hold parental responsibility (PR).  Father’s will have PR if they are:-

  • Married to the child’s mother at the time of birth;
  • Named on the child’s birth certificate;
  • Named on a Child Arrangements Order as a person a child lives with;
  • Named in a Parental Responsibility Agreement/ Order.

PR encompasses all the legal rights and responsibilities, which include:-

  • Providing a home for a child;
  • Protecting and maintaining a child;
  • Disciplining a child;
  • Choosing and providing for a child’s education;
  • Agreeing to a child’s medical treatment;
  • Naming a child and agreeing any name change;
  • Looking after a child’s property.

What can the Court do to help me maintain a connection with my child when I have parental responsibility?

The Courts can make the following orders regarding children in private law matters:-

  • A Child Arrangements “Live With” Order, previously known as ‘residence’;
  • A Child Arrangements “Spends Time with” Order, previously known as ‘contact’;
  • A Specific Issue Order; and
  • A Prohibited Steps Order.

If the arrangements surrounding where the children should live are not agreed, then you can apply to the court to determine this. The court take into consideration many factors including what is called the Welfare Checklist. This includes the wishes and feelings of the child taking into consideration their age and understanding; the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child; any harm that the child has or is at risk of suffering; and the capability of each parent or any other person whom the court considers to be relevant of meeting the child’s needs.

You do not need a court order if matters are agreed, however, if you believe that an order is necessary in your case, it may be possible to submit an agreed order to the court.  The court will want to consider this and make sure that it meets the children’s needs and protects the children from any potentially welfare concerns.

A “spends time with” Order sets out what time a person will spend with a child and when.

A Specific Issue Order is necessary where you want the court to decide on a specific matter, because an agreement cannot be reached.  This could include changing a child’s name, or changing the school the child attends.

If there is a concern that one parent may take unilateral action then it may be necessary to apply for a  Prohibited Steps Order to prohibit the other parent from doing something until the court determines the matter.  This could include moving the child from their current school, or taking a child outside of the jurisdiction of England and Wales without consent.

If you wish to apply to the court in relation to your children the court will determine the issues based on what is in the best interests of the children and not what may be best for either parent.  The child is the court’s paramount concern.

Help With Child Custody

Family Mediation

Before you can make an application to the court, you are required to attend a meeting called Mediation, Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). There are exemptions to attending mediation where there is evidence of domestic abuse, child protection concerns or an emergency requiring an urgent application.

At Poole Alcock, we are able to assist you in all areas in relation to children and any other matters you may encounter during the breakdown of a relationship, and our family law specialist team is ready to assist.  Call to speak to one of our team of specialist lawyers on 0800 470 0335.

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