How does the court approach child arrangements (formerly known as residence and contact)?

There is a legal presumption of parental involvement. This means that courts encourage a child’s relationship with both parents unless this would put the child at risk of harm. 

The court’s first consideration is the welfare of the child and The Children Act 1989 gives a checklist of factors for the court to consider as follows:-

  1. The wishes and feelings of the child. This is in light of the age and understanding of the child. Generally, the older a child, the more weight will be attached to their wishes and feelings. The court is not, however, obliged to give effect to a child’s wishes and feelings and can give consideration as to whether wishes and feelings are genuinely those of the child. 
  2. The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs. A parent should be able to provide for a child’s physical needs e.g., a parent seeking overnight contact will need to provide somewhere for a child to sleep. Children generally have an emotional need to have a relationship with both of their parents and also their siblings. 
  3. The likely effect on a child of a change in circumstances. This is often a balancing exercise. A court would be very reluctant to change where a child lives for example, simply because one parents wants that, but would usually be very willing to establish contact with a non-resident parent, even where that change may be unsettling for a time. 
  4. The child’s age, sex, background and relevant characteristics. This can include arguments around cultural and religious backgrounds.
  5. Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering. There is a wide definition of harm, which also includes seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another e.g., a child hearing one parent harming the other parent. Allegations of harm will be thoroughly investigated, and any risks assessed. 
  6. The capability of the child’s parents (or other relevant people) in meeting the child’s needs. This can include the capability of new partners also. A parent needs to be able to meet a child’s needs whilst in their care. 
  7. The powers available to the court. This section tends to be more relevant to care proceedings. 

The court must also be satisfied that making an order for a child is better than making no order at all. 

Agreeing arrangements for children can be difficult and the prospect of the court making decisions for you is a daunting one. RLK Solicitors can assist with reaching agreements, guide you through the court process and help you achieve the best outcome for your child. 

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