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Child Custody Rights

Author: Anna Martin - Updated: 21 May 2015 | commentsComment
Child Custody Residency Disputes Courts

In the UK child custody law determines who should be responsible for the care and charge of a child, after divorce or separation. The term custody is now more commonly referred to as residency - indicating where the children's main residence is, following a parental break up.

In the many cases, parents preference is for joint custody (or residency), which enables the child to spend an equal amount of time with each parent. This option also allows both parents to participate in any decision making which may affect the child. However, if parents are unable to decide amicably on what living arrangement is best for their child, the courts will decide on their behalf.

Parent Vs Parent

Most bitter disputes between married couples end up in the family courts. Whilst the separation and ensuing bitterness will undoubtedly affect the children it's important to remember that:
  • Most child residency court cases end amicably with either agreed residency or joint residency as the outcome
  • Access and maintenance payments from the non resident parent are also taken into consideration
  • In disputed cases each parent is individually assessed before a decision on which parent is given custody of the child, or children, is made

The best interests of the child is the general standard at the heart of all residency cases.

Joint Residency

Joint residency is considered to be the preferred solution as being in the best interests of most children.

BUT...There are no laws or 'rights' that state that a child should live specifically with either the mother or father.

Assuming you both have parental responsibility it is up to you to negotiate residency on the basis of what is best for the children. Many couples neglect to consider this fact and err on the side of what they themselves would prefer (or what suits them).

If you cannot come to an agreement, you should try mediation first. If that is unsuccessful, the courts will become involved and will issue a court order based on what it sees as appropriate.

Joint Residency Reflect Modern Society

The choice of joint residency, reflects the changes in society and takes into consideration work that mothers do outside of the home and a more hands-on approach of child care by fathers. By allowing both parents to have an equal share in the physical care of their child, or children, all legal rights connected to responsibilities and obligations to children are divided.

Custody Disputes

Most custody disputes involve the child’s mother and father. However, in some cases a third party – a grandparent, for instance – may seek custody at the time of a parent’s death or incapacity. If a couple has never married - making provisions for the care of their child may also develop into a dispute. Generally though a court will accept that a parent is in the best position to maintain the welfare of their child.

Unusual Circumstances

In some rare circumstances one parent may be permanently excluded from having any access to their child. However, the court has the right to change the decision at any point in time, should the parent’s circumstances change. The parent is able to re-apply for access at any time, and once an application is made the court may reconsider arrangements after examining evidence.

The Court Decides

The courts will generally accept custody arrangements that parents submit as part of their separation agreement. To ensure these arrangements serve the child’s interests the courts will review the plan. The role that grandparents, step-parents and other influential adults play in the child’s life may also be taken into consideration by the courts.

Changing Or Regaining Custody

Changing a child’s residency arrangements is possible. In order to support the change, substantial evidence of the stability the child will need to be submitted. There are many other factors to consider, which may include relocation of a parent, stability of employment, integration of the child into the new environment etc. Read on for more information about your rights as a parent.

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I have a 3yr old daughter and left her dad when she was 12months due to his drinking (he is an alcoholic) over the past 2 years his drinking has got worse to the extent he has tried to commit suicide on 3 occasions. He has recently had a fit infront of our daughter. He has never contributed financially and I have always said he had to have supervised contact with myself however he has recently bot been turning up or cancelling it. I challenged him about it and he basically said its al my fault. My daughter adores her dad and have always encouraged her to have a relationship however I am finding this hard to maintain as when she doesn't see him for weeks she asks about him or if I make other arrangements as he hasn't then decides to last minute I get abuse as he wants to see her or he turns up smelling of alcohol. I'm struggling with what I can do and what a should do.
struggling.mum - 21-May-15 @ 8:39 PM
Hi i have a residency order for my daughter and i have been very easy on contact with her mother even though dhe is awkward my question is whos responsibility is it to make sure her mother sees her on days arranged as far as picking up and dropping off
daddy9 - 21-May-15 @ 1:47 PM
Hello, i have alittle boy who is nearly 3 and since day 1 his dad has always walked in and out of his life. He doesn't call/message to ask how he is and has never payed a penny.He walks out for months at a time to go party or to hang out with his new friends. Each time he walks out my son is heartbroken and i am left with the awkward questions for weeks and when they stop and hes ok his dad is about to start it all over again, what should i do? I dont want my son to get hurt "Again" thank you
Lauraxx - 20-May-15 @ 4:34 PM
@berty84 - your son is still too young at seven to be asked his opinion, so if your ex wants to take it to court, then it will be up to the courts to decide what is in the best interests of your child. However, the fact that you have given him a stable environment makes it less likely that the courts would want to remove him from your care. You could at the same time apply for a residence order which would mean that your ex might be able to have access, but you would have sole care. It would be in your best interests to get the residence order in place, as that means your ex cannot keep him from seeing you, if you are officially awarded care. It is better to get the care order in place through the courts if you can, than accept any mediation agreement which is not legally binding. I hope this helps.
ChildSupportLaws - 20-May-15 @ 2:20 PM
@craig - you can, but you will need to give yourself ample time in order to get this heard through the courts. You can apply for a 'specific issue order' see link here which will explain all you need to know. I hope this helps.
ChildSupportLaws - 19-May-15 @ 1:34 PM
@Sam - should anything untoward happen to your partner while you are fighting for adoption, she can put in place a guardianship request, please see article: Appointing Guardians in a Will here. I hope this helps.
ChildSupportLaws - 19-May-15 @ 12:57 PM
@CC - if you both cannot agree on the terms of when he sees your children, then it will be down to the courts to decide the terms of his contact order. However, you can specify your terms to the mediator, who would then relay this to the courts.
ChildSupportLaws - 18-May-15 @ 2:49 PM
Hi guys in need of advise I split from my ex 6 months ago she up and walked out on me and my son she has not paid a penny towards support for him and not even seen him for the 6 months he never wants to speak to her and doesn't want to see her what rights does my son have and what rights do I have as she is now wanting to fight to get him back does he have any say in what he wants or is he still too young at the age of 7 I provide a home an education for him and everything else he needs
berty84 - 17-May-15 @ 9:47 AM
My partner's ex was abusive towards her, and she has a restraining order against him for the next 8 years, with the exception that he can contact her in regards to seeing 'his' daughter. She is now 19 months old, and he has had no contact with her since she was about 3 weeks old, I have raised her as my own since she was 3 months old, and we also now have abother child together. We are trying to have me adopt the eldest, but we are in the VERY early stages of the process. My question is, if my partner were to die, would I have any right to my eldest, or would her birth father get automatic custody? Bearing in mind he is also on benefits, unable to work due to mental illness, and has been taken to court on 3 counts of rape (not convicted), has spent time in a psychiatric ward, and has a documented history of substance abuse. I have a well paid, full time job, have no arrests, rarely drink (even rarer to have more than), and do not take drugs. Thank you all for any advice.
Sam - 15-May-15 @ 7:39 PM
I want to take my children on holiday but my ex wont let me as she says if I do it wll be reported as kidnap can I go to court to resolve this
craig - 15-May-15 @ 4:17 PM
In need of some advise, I have been separated from my children's father for five years two children 12 and 7. He has only ever bothered with them when he wanted to many times just so they could see him I would allow him to come into my home to see the children which didn't work as he would only see them for 20minutes sometimes and as soon as his phone would ring would leave. To cut along story short he ended up going to jail for four years and found out he had been taking drugs a very high level drug. My daughter suffered through this and became very angry and aggressive towards me.eventually we got back into a routine then he was released and my daughter became angry again.i thought about my children and how much they wanted to see him so I made him aware that if he was to take drugs ever again that he would never see them again,well again he has so have stopped contact now I have received a letter for mediation.im sorry but unless he can do a drugs test to make sure he hasn't in the last 5months since stopping the contact and can do one every time he has contact with my children then I'm not allowing this to carry on.am I within my rights to do this as all I am thinking about is the safety of my children
CC - 15-May-15 @ 10:27 AM
@Shadrack - despite the fact that you are the father of your son, it is never a good idea to 'keep' him without authorisation from his mother.While you can legally keep him (if your ex doesn't have a residency order in place), the courts don't view fathers taking matters into their own hands favourably because of the upset is can cause. Plus, it can have repercussions on you if you don't go through the correct channels. I have included a link to Family Lives via the link here where you can speak to someone directly for some confidential advice, especially if you feel your son may also be at risk. You may also want to seek some legal advice about going through the courts to attempt to get a residency order. I hope this helps.
ChildSupportLaws - 15-May-15 @ 10:04 AM
Hi I have a 7 year old son who lives with his mother we have agreed to me having him on the weekends but when he comes he's dirty hungry and never has any clean clothes and the ones she sends him with are always to small he says she always fighting with her boyfriend and has just told me he saw getting punched and kicked and thrown downstairs I'm really really worried can I keep him with me when he comes next ?
Shadrack - 13-May-15 @ 11:26 AM
@Hayziie - this is a tricky question and the only recourse your parents would have is if they were very concerned for your child's welfare and perhaps thought your child was being neglected, in which case they could report it to Social Services. However, if she is just saying it as a form of bribery to get you to end the relationship with this guy, then it's unlikely she'd have a case and she is in fact being quite cruel by saying such things.
Nick - 8-May-15 @ 2:16 PM
Hi, this is a complicated but unusual question. My parents dont approved of my boyfriend. They are trying to fault him at every angle. Me and my boyfriend had our ups and downs and nearly split up but we got back together and the parents dont accept it. But my mum is saying if i got back with him she will take me to court and get full custody of my son (my boyfriend isn't he's dad) what rights has my mum got when i havent done nothing wrong but declare my love for my boyfriend??
Hayziie - 8-May-15 @ 2:15 AM
my daughters partner left her when she was pregnant.He then came back, broke in, tried to steal the baby but was so drunk he fell onto the couch and fell asleep. My daughter woke up to find the baby gone and found him underneath his father's arm, very blue in the face. The police were called and told my daughter a father has a right to see his own child.The dad then went away again. No money so CSA were involved.They said they couldnt find him so I paid for private detectives and sent the CSA his address, work address, company name, pay slips, bank account numbers etc.They phoned and said they had attended the address but his lodger had said that he had moved to Australia.I asked what the lodger looked like...very similar to Dad.I sent a photo and they visited again and it was him. He laughed. Four months later, we phoned the CSA..why no money?They said he had told them he was paying so they left it...he had not paid a penny. Now here we are 8 years later, we received a couple of hundred pounds during December and January this year then nothing. The CSA are so useless they have almost turned it into an art form.We get four letters most months, all saying different things. All the phone calls are from different people who know nothing of the case. He owes, and the court has liabilites against him in my daughters favour of over £12,000 plus he owes £4000 for damage to her house but still, he owns at least two properties, rents one out, but they wont force sale. They wont get money direct from his company.They wont do any of the things they said they'd do 8 years ago. He is a really nasty person and he's getting away with flouting the law and we, taxpayers, are forking out for wages to a department and workers who don't have a clue.Shame on them.
ti - 5-May-15 @ 12:58 PM
Hi guys, need some advice. My husband walked out on me 6 months ago when I was 9 weeks pregnant, we also have an 9 year old son. He moved into his friends apartment, signed a lease and has also been in a relationship for a minimum of 3 months. I then moved back home to where my son was brought up as we had only moved to be closer to his work, 4 months prior to him ending our marriage. He agreed that he can only take the 9 year old every other weekend from a sat-sun as he cannot afford to travel down to our house and I have no issues with this. We also agreed about christmas and the holidays as it was easier to have this all worked out now before the time comes. I have also stated to him that because I intend to breastfeed, he will be able to call in and see the baby once it is born and take the child on a sunday between feeds so he still gets time with the child. He has since turned around and threatened to take me to court if I try and change custody or show any resistance to his new girlfriend meeting the children. I feel that he has me over a barrel and that I cannot even bring up child support to him incase he threatens to bring me to court or actually follows through with his threat. I just need to know where I stand legally when it comes to this, as at the minute I live within 5 minute walking distance to all of my relatives and the child's school and a 10 minute drive from his family, whereas if he had custody of the children, they would be with a childminder from 10am-9pm as these are his hours in work and there are no relations or family members within 30 miles to his address.
JacobJo - 3-May-15 @ 7:32 PM
just found out my boyfriends ex has been hiring herself as a prostitute while his 4 year old is in the house and even advertising on her website including this info. We're scared for her safety what can we do? They share custody
Jay - 2-May-15 @ 8:40 PM
3 children. Ages 15,12 and 8 years. Going through mediation. Unmarried. Dad wants to see the two youngestchildren every other weekend from Sat 4PM - Sun 4 PM. Then the other weekends he wants to take one child at a time Sat 5PM - 9PM. He is leaving the eldest out of the visitation agreement. How can I argue against this. I am very concerned on a number of levels. Emotional manipulation of the children, isolation and triangulation. The children are not happy they believe they are a family and should be together. They would NEVER have a full weekend when they are a family together - one or two children would always be absent. Help advise please.
Toastie - 30-Apr-15 @ 1:36 PM
@Sami - if you can't agree between yourselves and you can't agreethrough mediation then it will have to go to court and let the court decide what it thinks is in the best interests of your child.
Maia - 30-Apr-15 @ 11:30 AM
My nearly 12 year old son wants to spend more time with me and sleepover 50% at my house and 50% at his mother's house. She has told him that he can't without giving a reason. I suspect that it is so she receives the maximum CSA she can for him. My son already sleeps over Friday and Saturday night without any problem as my ex-wife disappears off to her bf every weekend. I am also closer to his school and only 5 minutes walk away from his mother's house. How can I go about gaining greater shared care access without having huge legal bills as I have little disposable income because I already pay CSA for my three children. Is there anything my son can do as he feels he is forced to stay somewhere he is not happy?
Stevland - 29-Apr-15 @ 9:30 PM
Hi My partner and i have my partners 2 children living with us it has all been privately agreed eith my partners ex and the children see her every other weekend, how ever is there a legal document to confirm the children stay here and the ex cant just decide one day to take them back? My partner does have 50/50 automatic shared responsibilty of the children due to the yrs they were were born after etc.
Kate - 28-Apr-15 @ 1:50 PM
Hi I have a 8 month old her dad has just been in contact since she was 4 months and at 5 since we did a DNA test he was added to the birth, so I guess he has rights, he's been stressing me out demanding things and saying he's going to court but we went to mediation first and still didn't work he also took her over night when I didn't think he was ready but no since she stayed there he's keeps asking for more. Now I want this to go to court as I want proof if something goes wrong and it happens again! Am I wrong for doing this I have never stop him from seeing her but he doesn't like it when am there he wants to be on his own! Also he has not paid for anything but things for himself (for her) and he said he won't care he doesn't know what am going to spend it on so he wants vouchers
Sami - 27-Apr-15 @ 3:15 PM
@Zoe1990 - A mother has parental responsibility for her child and is generally expected to become the parent with care, in the event of a separation or divorce. In general terms, an unmarried mother is deemed to have sole parental responsibility for her children. As an unmarried parent, it is up to you whether you want the child's father to be involved in her upbringing and care and whether you want him on the birth certificate or if you want him to have parental rights. If you do not wish this, he can take it to court to claim both parental responsibility and access/contact. If he has parental responsibility from the start, he has more rights over your child. Please see link of what parental responsibility means here. I hope this helps.
ChildSupportLaws - 17-Apr-15 @ 10:20 AM
hi ive not had my baby yet but im afraid my partner might try to take the baby as i live with my mother he also lives with his mother but will probably get an apartment for himself we tried living together but i ended up leaving due to anxiety and panic attacks which is my basis for living with my mom i realised i was not ready and would rather raise my baby here for as long as i need so i can be a happy healthy mom to him but my partner is not happy about it and i think it will lead to our break up and im so scared he will try to take the baby away. i have no problem with him having baby on weekends and seeing him during the week but im afraid he might be spiteful the longer it goes on can he take the baby if im the primary care giver and live with my mom.
Zoe1990 - 17-Apr-15 @ 9:36 AM
@Busy - it's quite simple - you need to take it to court. There is no reason why you shouldn't be able to see your kids. Please read article; When Your Ex-Partner Denies You Access link here . You can also self-litigate, see here. I hope this helps.
ChildSupportLaws - 16-Apr-15 @ 2:39 PM
@Tracy - he can take it to court to try to enforce contact. I would wait until the correspondence comes. If he takes it to court, it is likely that it will be suggested that you undertake mediation first. However, mediation is a voluntary process and is seen as possible solution when you can't come to an agreement between yourselves, see link here. I hope this helps.
ChildSupportLaws - 16-Apr-15 @ 2:14 PM
@Hlrpsr- it really sounds like you could go around in circles with this one and that mediation, despite the cost, may be the right way forward. He does have to compromise, and as many mothers do, they have to find alternative arrangements for their childcare if they have to work.However, it is arguably more difficult at the weekends to find a childcare provider. I can't really give any advice on this, as it is such a tricky and subjective problem. You really have to battle it out between you or let someone else do it on your behalf.
ChildSupportLaws - 15-Apr-15 @ 2:17 PM
My ex partner and i split 5 yrs ago we have 3 children who have always spent 3 days p/w with him and the rest of the time with me over the last year to 18 months things at his house have steadily gone down hill to the point were our oldest son decided he did not want to stay there about 6 months ago, i sid warn him that things couldn't continue the way they were but I have recently stopped overnight stays for the younger two as they have been coming home dirty hungry and with a strong smell of drugs on their clothes and belongings he has called me today telling me to expect a letter from his lawyer and I just wonder where do I go from here do I need a lawyer ?
Tracy - 14-Apr-15 @ 3:54 PM
Hello ladies and gentleman, I'm seeking some help or advice please , I have been separated from my ex partner for 5 years now, we have three children together that are my whole life, we separated due to her been very unfaithfully to me,we have both got new partners now, things were good I got my children every 2nd weekend , school holidays etc , but for nearly a year now I have not seen my children cos I took my kids to the park when she said I can't take them to the park, crazy I know, I tried reasoning with her but then she shouts swears at me calls me every name under the sun, so I walk away to find out she has plastered bad things all over a social media site telling me to stay away from my kids as they have a dad " forgot to mention she has another partner" I miss them all so much , I seen my son coming home from school he seen me and waved I stopped and he said he misses me and loves me, then his mum came round the corner and told him to never talk to me etc , now I'm too scared to even look at my kids when I see them out shopping etc, I was my sons birthday so I put £50 in a card for him threw the door, she emailed me saying my birthday card is now in the bin, what can I do , please help,
Busy - 14-Apr-15 @ 3:44 PM
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