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Child Custody Rights

By: Anna Martin - Updated: 6 May 2024 | comments*Discuss
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.

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oliviastephen02 - 2-Apr-24 @ 8:22 AM
Hi i am.not sure where to start... but basically i suffered post natal depression with my first child then when i had my second child i ended up with ocd. Anyway i suffered mental breakdown. My 1st child was given to his step dad by ss and court and i let my youngest live with his dad. There is no court or ss involved with my youngest and me and his dad have 50/50 rights. Their dad is poorly with his heart and he dropped a bomb shell on me regarding my youngest saying 3years ago he put in somewhere for my youngest to live with his daughter. Me and his daughter do not get on hes saying i can travel up there etc but i want my child to live me. What rights do i have or what can i do. Thank you
Lily - 4-Mar-24 @ 5:33 PM
Hi, my ex-partner stopped me from seeing or having any contact with my 2 boys for almost 4 years and in February 2023 I had a random call from a social worker who notified me about situations regarding and surrounding the welfare of my children, unbeknown to me (but evidently logged with social services) this had been going on since 2018 where 20+ calls/reports had been made to the police about domestic abuse/violence was occurring along with alcohol and drug abuse within the property as well as emotional and physical abuse towards my children. As of February 23 I exercised my parental rights and removed my children and September 23 was awarded a permanent residence order due to neglect etc by the mother and her partner, she is now trying to take me back to court to take the children back into her care, my one son actually wants to go live with his nan while the other is adamant that he wants to stay with me. I’m stuck on what to do and what steps I need to take next….
Jk - 24-Jan-24 @ 2:04 AM
I got into a relationship with a man who had not long broke up with his two year olds baby mum. From the start she has been using his child as a weapon. It was always about money if she didnt get what she wanted then we get the message of your not seeing your child. the normal childish behaviour., it come to October last year she got in a new relationship and then asked my partner to take the child full time because her mental health was bad that she didnt believe she couldnt be alone with the child. of course he agreed, in december he then had to start claiming universal credit for his daughter which this when all the problems started to arrise. she had an issue because she then couldnt claim for her she was then losing out on £244 a month. please bare in mind we had asked her if she can pay a small amount of CSA for the child because she needed clothes and new things like every two year old does. she then refused to pay anything. She hadnt seen the child over christmas or new year the contact was far between. About a month ago he went to CSA for some help as she hadnt paid a penny to the child in the 7 months not brought her a thing either. after that shes now has said she wants the child back full time she wants the CSA for her and the universal credit back to herself. We dont believe this is the best interest for the child as shes already claimed in several messages she cant cope even an hour with the child. can we please have some advice?
soph - 5-May-23 @ 6:40 PM
Hi, well were do i start... My ex partner of 10 years we have a son together he is 8, ASD special needs which has been diagnosed from the age of 4. we have been split since my son was 5 and a half. I have had a really abusive relationship the whole time that we were together which has been documented by police and he has had restraining orders/Non Mal order. we have been separated for 3 years he regularly lets his son down and turns up at my house screaming kicking my doors shouting all sorts on the days he has agreed not to see him he is just coming to intimidate me and my child.(which i have reported for documentation). he is constantly threatening to take my son or take me to court, he has told me he wants to take him away and will not tell me where or how long for... im concerned to ne honest that he will not bring him back or he is untrustworthy having him. He has him (if he turns up) one day a week sleepover usually a Saturday because of his work and my sons school. He doesn't seem to cater to my sons needs or if he does its to benefit him or will only do it in front of people i feel like im going crazy sometimes and i really need some advice on what to do.i have been advised to consider applying for sole custody of myson and i am a little scared to be honest and i just want to know what my best options are as to my situation and first steps of what i need to do if i am able.
Emily.c - 4-Mar-23 @ 4:11 PM
Hello,I am in a difficult position with my ex regarding visitation of our 18month daughter..we separated when she was 5months old..he has never really been in her life..even during my pregnancy we had separated for 3months leading up to her birth..after she was born..I spent 6weeks with my mum and then moved back home with my husband...our relationship became turbulent shortly afterwards and 3months later we separated for good and are now divorced. I was granted full custody of our child and he visitation rights..my ex refuses to agree on visitation..he hardly sees our daughter and now insists on picking her up and taking her with me as opposed to seeing her at my house because he doesn't want her to think we r together..my ex has never been involved in her upbringing..he sees once a month at most for an hour..he is never calls to check on her...never is involved when she is unwell..I have asked him to come and see her more often so that she gets used to him before he can start taking her away from my home.. he refuses to meet me halfway..I told him to wait till she turns 2 by then she can communicate a little better and she can understand the change of environment..he still refuses..I am at a loss...what can I do?
Helz - 1-Jun-22 @ 10:21 AM
Hi the mother of my child refuses to consider me having my son in the week so I can stay on top of his behaviour and education she lives in denial about his behaviour saying he is having a blip which has lasted 6-7 years now she makes him lie to me she hides things that have happened at school from me she allows him to get away with just about anything she never follows thru on his punishments what can I do if she is refusing to have a adult conversation about the issues constantly feeling sorry for herself trying to bring the conversation to be about her do I have to go for mediation or do I go straight to the court
Mr m - 14-Oct-21 @ 12:33 PM
I have been separated from my ex girlfriend for 2 year's witch I was sent to prison for burglary of the house we lived in for 13 years my ex girlfriend has died and her father is trying to get custody of my son what is my best option
Sam john Knowles - 27-Sep-21 @ 2:01 AM
The father of my child is threatening to take me to court for joint custody so he doesn’t have to pay me any maintenance. He is only able to have her 1 night a week and sometimes more on his weeks off (he works shifts)so he wouldn’t actually be able to loom after her himself 50% of the time .. therefore he would be leaving her with babysitters or her nan or nursery while he works , so he would be doing this out of spite as my daughter would therefore miss out on time with me to be left with babysitters- just so he doesn’t have to pay me any money for her.Would the court take his shift pattern into account and acknowledge that he can’t physically have her half of the time?
HJ - 24-Jul-21 @ 5:09 PM
After a really long custody battle with my physically, emotionally and finically abusive ex the courts have finally decided that I have full sole custody and also denied any visitation rights for the father. Does this mean he still have parental rights or have they been taken away now he’s not allowed to see the child? (He is on the birth certificate)
Abi - 24-Apr-21 @ 6:21 PM
The court ordered no third party to be present at handover in a neutral setting. The father lives with a new partner and he brings her to handover. She films the handover too. Does she constitute a third party?
Charlie - 21-Apr-21 @ 7:15 PM
Hi, so i was in an emotionally and financially abusive relationship with my daughters dad, we split before she was born and he refused to sign her birth certificate because i gave her my last name fast forward nearly 6 years, he has continued to be abusive calling me names etc. he currently has her every other weekend, most bank holiday mondays, boxing day, fathersday, his birthday and whenever he asks during the holidays. due to his abusive words etc i requested third party ( he cant contact me and i drop her to someone else for him to collect an he does the same ) i worte it all down in a parenting plan which he refused to do anything with, he said his solicitor told him not to do anything. would a solicitor tell someone that? what is he likely to get if it were to go to court? thank you
antoniajane - 5-Apr-21 @ 4:57 PM
My brother very sadly passed away a week ago, without ever meeting his 11 month old daughter. He was fighting in court for access, and was tragically driven to take his own life as a result of his daughters mothers and grandparents cruelty towards him. They are directly responsible for his death. I would like to apply for visitation/shared custody of my niece, but I’m not even sure if I have any legal basis to do so, or how to start the process. Speaking to the mother and grandparents is out of the question, is there any legal route I can go down to have a relationship with my niece and keep her safe from the monstrous people that are bringing her up...? Please advise.
Laura Jade - 21-Mar-21 @ 10:05 AM
Over the past 13 years the mother of my three children keeps sabotage me having contact with my children. We make an arrangement an at the appointed time does not answer the front door or cancels 5minutes before the appointed time then tell the children ure dad let you down again , he does not love you all to try and out me in a bad light I am tired of being patient I need to take legal proceedings to enable my parental rights as the children father to 13, 3 and 18months year old. All this time I am still provided maintenance and I still don’t get to see my children The mum focus on on her heart beak it her children ( we had in the past an relationship which did not last and I went my separate way) we cannot even beamicable as she just hurls abuse down the phone at me or sends spiteful messages. All I want is to be in my children’s life and co/parent she does not want this, then she agrees to it then she breaks the arrangements everytime. 13 years of this I am just tired of the control barriers she keeps putting up We tried mediation when my eldest was around 5 years old to which she came to me and told me not to put our child through this she will let me see her ... low and behold she stars her games again I just need to get my co-parenting set out by the courts in writhing the days of the week I have to see my child by law Please advice
Mr J - 4-Jan-21 @ 6:35 PM
So i have a complex situation, i have received a phone call from the father of one of my exs childs father, he has told me that his daughter has been staying with him over the Christmas period, she has refused to go back with her mum as she says her mum and partner hit her and her other kids, one of which is my daughter of which I am on the birth certificate and another is my son but I am not on the birth certificate, i have been rejected by their mum to see my children but now i find out that there being assaulted daily and i dont know what to do, i have multiple messages from her on Facebook messenger stating how i will never see my kids again, its been nearly two years since I saw my daughter last and I've never met my son, i pay maintenance for them, is there anything i can do, i can't sit back and let this happen
Stuart - 3-Jan-21 @ 5:05 PM
Hello. I currently find myself in a situation as an Aunt. My younger sister fell pregnant from an abusive relationship that sent her into crisis. They were no longer together when she found she was pregnant. The father in question is a known drug user with a criminal record who still lives with his parents with whom his relationship is on and off with as they periodically kick him out of the house in a constant repeating cycle. He is deeply abusive to my sister to the point that contact was cut and his parents mediate on his behalf which then led to our mother having to mediate on my sister's behalf as the father's step-father took to simply harassing and bullying her, which the support worker agreed was happening. She has had many different social workers and are all dead losses as most never make the effort to contact or meet my sister and the most recent one met with the father's family first and formed an opinion against my sister without meeting her, which does not give my sister any comfort at all. The father's family is very strategic and it has been obvious from the start that gaining full custody was their endgame. They are very good at putting forward a facade that will gain them favour, they lie and go behind our backs. We try tirelessly to work with them but the communication is just not there. It was agreed with a social worker the father must be supervised at all time when having the baby and the father's step-father assured us he was until found out this was a lie and the father was out unsupervised with the baby at a local park. This distressed my sister and we tried to talk to them about it they would not take our calls or respond to messaged. We ended up having to gain contact via the father's birth dad and step-mum, with whom we are on good terms but the father's birth mum and step-father are not and at every turn try to exclude them or have them taken out of the picture. In regards to the father's birth mum and step-father it was agreed they would have the child every monday, however one monday recently this was not doable as my niece had a routine Doctor's appointment that could not be rescheduled. This was communicated clearly beforehand and they were fine with that but then immediately when behind my sister's back and told the social worker that they were being denied access which wasn't and has never been true. Despite everything she has suffered, my sister has never entertained the idea of denying the father and his family access. However today we learn that they are planning on filing for joint custody which is just one step towards their end game of taking my niece permanently. What is even worse is that the father doesn't even care about whether he gets to see his daughter or not, it is his parents who want her so desperately. The though of joint custody makes us all sick and I know it would destroy my sister who has done nothing but bend over backwards to please everyone. Financially they are in a better s
Meg - 4-Dec-20 @ 1:22 PM
I was living with my partner and two children and took a job 300 miles away meaning I would only be home for weekends, upon me and my partner agreeing I should take the job because of the financial gains, she then ended the relationship. I now live 300 miles away from my sons. Lockdown was good as whilst on furlough I managed to collect them (600 mile round trip) and bring them back to her never asking her for money towards the travel costs and paying full child maintenance. I have done this every month now barring September where my finances were not good. My ex got very cross and has been hell to deal with since. It is arranged I have my sons over Christmas, and I was scheduled to see them last week November, however given lockdown and no where to go barring the outdoors and that is weather dependant, I suggested she bring the children down and stay with her father that weekend who does not live far from me, she will not do this and threatened to take me to court for access to the boys and that she will not allow me to have them at Christmas. She is completely unreasonable and I have no idea of my rights and I just cannot seem to reason rationally with her, its incredibly distressing.
anyhelpappreciated - 20-Nov-20 @ 1:41 PM
Hi Guys, so me and my wife split up two months ago and i have the two boys who stay with each of us for half the month each with us splitting it straight down the middle. Which is fair tho the mother does claim all the benefits for the children and housing allowance as i don't receive child tax credits im not seen as the legal guardian with me receiving word that the ex wife may take my boys out of school and move away come may is there anything i can do?
darren - 11-Nov-20 @ 7:48 PM
My sons mum said she doesn't want my son and doesn't love him or care about him. (Broke my heart) I work full time but currently live with her due to other circumstances. I want to take custody/parental rights but how do when technically I dont have anywhere permanent to live. She's told me she will give him to me but do I need paperwork to prove it or do I have to go court even though she's willing to let me have him. I'm on birth papers as his father. Please help I just want the best for him
Nate - 4-Nov-20 @ 7:14 PM
I was in a relationship with this guy everything was great in the first few months, I have 3 children of my own from previous23, 17 ,7, still married but separated. now my baby is 6 months old, i suspect he want to take him away from me, he ask for his birth certificate, he said he doesn't neet it for anything, but now he want it . I think something is up, any advice please?
Shawna - 28-Oct-20 @ 7:42 PM
My brother has had my child from feb til now October I’ve taken this to court but because of the pandemic it’s took til now to have a hearing my brother has stoped contact with my son and the final hearing is in March next year he’s taking my son out of school he goes to a special education school and is taken advantage thst he’s vunrable by taking him a work with him does my brother have rights to take my child I’m at my wits end he’s using my past and mentle health agent me to try and keep my son he was 14 now 15 surly he has no rights over my sons education this is a intrim order only til March next year he’s also broke my visit rights the last month
Flynny - 20-Oct-20 @ 6:59 PM
I am a father of nine children and I can't cope with them anymore. I feel I can't give them what they need. I think their mother is a good mum and cares for them but might neglect their education. Non attendence at school. I work in the education field myself and don't want to be taken to court for them not going to school as I would lose my job and income. What can I do?
John D - 15-Oct-20 @ 11:09 PM
Hi, I have been my toddlers main carer since she was born, even when living with my husband he did not participate in feeding clothing changing bath time or bed time, on occasion he has left my toddler unsupervised without informing me, now he is asking for joint custody, he has been emotionally abusive throughout our relationship and not shown any affection for his daughter, he wanted a son I am concerned about my daughter's safety and the negative impact moving to a unfamiliar place with somebody who hasn't been involved In her life for 7 months, would I be able to gain sole custody?
Tan - 2-Oct-20 @ 3:22 PM
Hi, my brother has been taking care of my nephew ever since he was born. He is 5 yrs of age now. The mother of the child is now deceased and her sister keep threatening to take the child from my brother saying that he’s not the father. Can she do that? What rights does my brother has been that my nephew has our last name and we want to keep him ?
Bee - 30-Sep-20 @ 2:09 AM
Been with my ex partner 10y r I threw him out after he h. had his hands round my throte he came home after seven months but walked out last week he said it's his right to see my son everyday is this correct? I want him home he said yes soon but I seen on government site about parent logbook for custody if he had a lawyer or started processing would I be made aware of this?i don't want to sit on fence if he is just playing until he gets legal papers Please help me as he has threatened to take my son to London and I won't see him again there's a lot more to this fraud on universal I've reported it but seems he knew what to do in my details ect am so scared of his true intentions I worry for my health as had stroke and fear another due to this Urgent advice needed
Terrified - 21-Sep-20 @ 8:12 PM
My mother and his boyfriend have a child(my little brother) and he always threatens my mom with throwing her out without my little brother. And he always drinks and smokes very much and we wanna go away with my mom and my little brother but we don’t know what to do. Can anyone give us some advice how we can leave and how my mother can get custody for my little brother?
Asd - 14-Sep-20 @ 7:03 PM
I am 24 and my sister is 21. We each have 1 child. Over the last 2 years our mother has become increasingly unfit to look after our 2 younger siblings aged 8 and 11 due to alcohol and drug use so between the two of us we have been looking after them. However she is showing no signs of trying to get herself out of this rut and we think it is in the best interests of the children to come and live either with one of us or for us to share custody of them permanently. The only reason we havent persued this yet is because we would first like some advice incase things went wrong and the children went into foster care (which none of us want) does anyone know what are the best steps we can take so that the children are legally in our care or what would happen if we applied for full custody of them?
Ndw - 8-Sep-20 @ 10:04 PM
Ex partner (female) has custody of 11yo daughter. She has made it difficult to see my daughter since I remarried (haven’t seen her in 4 years). Even though the courts maintain she must co-parent with me, she has alienated me from my child. It has come to my attention that my ex has had a life threatening health issue occur. Since things have been contentious since the beginning of our split, it’s has been impossible to approach things such as wills and after death plans surrounding our daughter and property. From the stories I’ve heard from family members, I am the devil incarnate. I’m concerned about her extended family fighting for custody, not out of concern for my daughter, but out of spite. If something where to happen to her, would I still get custody of our daughter?
LRMcG - 1-Sep-20 @ 10:59 AM
My wife has a daughter (my step daughter) and her father is causing all sorts of problems for us. My wife has full custody of her and he has visitation rights. Now, before my wife met me he paid no attention to his daughter had no contact until my wife met me. I am a US citizen currently living in the US. When my wife first came to the US she asked the father if he could watch her while my wife came to US but he wanted money to do so. Then after my wife and I were together for 2 years doing long distance relations, his daughter stayed at his house and when she came back she said he touched her woowoo (privates) but when my wife told the courts and officers they said it was just a touch not enough to do any charges. She is 7 years old and he didnt need to be touching her because she can use the restroom on her own. I dont know what to do right now because my wife is here in the US with me and our new son who is 8 months and he is lying to the courts in UK and accused my wife of child abduction. I dont know what to do, it seems we are fighting a losing battle and might have to move back to the UK. We need to get full custody and take away visitation rights. Her father also threatened to kill my wife with a knife in front of his daughter and thats one of the first things she told me when she came to the US and told my parents the same thing. Can I get help please.
Joel - 30-Jul-20 @ 1:02 AM
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