Parents Living Separately – Making Child Arrangements

When parents live separately it can be a stressful and emotional time for all concerned including the children, parents, grandparents, and wider family members. It is hoped that all concerned will be able to co-operate and work together to provide a safe, secure, and stable environment for the child. To help achieve this aim parents will need to agree where a child lives and how much time a child spends with each parent and other practical decisions such as schooling, health care and religion. This is called making ‘child arrangements’ and is the terminology we use in England and often known as ‘child custody’ in many countries around the world.

Whilst the parents may have separated, the presence of the child means that whilst they may no longer be a couple, they will forever be family. The child arrangements are usually agreed by the parents as an informal agreement between themselves. There does not have to be any court proceedings when parents fully agree the child arrangements and continue to work together to co-parent effectively in the future. There will need to be an understanding that a degree of flexibility needs to be maintained with any agreement as circumstances change over time and life is ever evolving. The court’s preferred approach is that parents are mature enough to agree the arrangements themselves and studies have shown that these agreements are the most successful as both parents will have been involved in the decision-making process without an order being imposed on them by a court. This is better for the child and the parents. Any involvement by a court will bring additional stresses and emotional strains to the parenting relationship and it will likely involve a substantial financial cost. All of this will likely have a negative impact on the child’s mental health and emotional stability although it is always hoped the child is not involved directly in any disagreements between the parents.

Both parents should expect there may need to be some compromise to achieve a successful and positive outcome that is in the best interest of the child. To achieve this, parents may find it helpful to prepare a written Parenting Plan which covers the practical arrangements for the child. The parenting plan can help clarify the arrangements, so everyone involved knows what is expected of them and it acts as a valuable reference to go back to. There are times when it may be helpful for this Parenting Plan to be made into a court order, perhaps where there is an issue about international relocation and travel between countries. This can be done by agreement at a low financial cost to the parents without needing to attend court. 

Court proceedings may become necessary where there is some disagreement between the parents on a specific point or where there are some underlying issues such as domestic abuse with allegations of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse for either the parent or the child. The most important focus is to ensure the child is safe from physical or emotional harm and therefore this must be at the forefront of all concerned. 

If you have any concerns or you wish to have a general discussion about the arrangements for your child, please contact our Partner, Julie Taylor, a Children, Family & Divorce Specialist by email or by phone on 020 7925 8080 / 07956 229889 for a complimentary initial conversation. All discussions will be discreet and confidential.