Different Types of Child Custody Arrangements After Divorce in the UK

Divorce arrangement

Child custody arrangements involve deciding who the child will live with, who makes crucial decisions, and how both parents participate in their upbringing. Understanding the child arrangement orders is crucial in shaping a stable future for your children, ensuring they receive the care and support they need despite the changes around them.

This piece delves into the various forms of child custody agreements in the UK.

1. Legal Custody

Legal custody means the rights and obligations associated with making significant decisions in a child’s life. These decisions include, but are not limited to, choices about the child’s schooling, wellness, and religious teaching. Seeking advice from divorce solicitors can help you navigate these decisions, ensuring that a parent remains an integral part of the decision-making process in crucial areas of their child’s development, irrespective of where the child physically resides.

There are two forms of legal custody: sole legal custody and joint legal custody. Sole legal custody gives one parent the right to make major choices concerning the child’s upbringing. This arrangement is typically reserved for situations where one parent is deemed significantly more capable of making decisions in the child’s best interest or where the other parent is unavailable or unfit.

On the other hand, joint legal custody requires both parents to collaborate and make decisions about their child’s upbringing. This arrangement is encouraged as it allows for continued parental involvement from both sides, fostering a balanced environment for the child. However, it requires a cooperative effort and communication between the parents, which can be challenging post-divorce.

2. Physical Custody

Physical custody is about where and with whom the child lives. This aspect of custody can significantly impact a child’s day-to-day life and overall stability.

Sole physical custody indicates that the child remains with one parent most of the time, providing the child with a primary residence. The non-custodial parent usually has the right to visit, ensuring they remain active in the child’s life. This arrangement is often seen as beneficial in providing the child with stability and less disruption.

Joint physical custody means the child stays a considerable period with each parent, often alternating between homes. This arrangement demands a high level of organisation and cooperation between the parents to minimise disruption in the child’s routine.

While joint physical custody promotes an equal relationship with both parents, it can also pose challenges due to the logistical and emotional implications of the child frequently transitioning between two homes.

3. Full / Sole Custody

Sole custody is an arrangement in which just one parent has total legal and physical custody of the kid. This indicates that one parent is primarily accountable for making key choices concerning the child’s well-being and serves as the primary, if not exclusive, caretaker.

In the UK, the courts prefer to assign custody involving both parents; however, sole custody may be deemed necessary under certain serious circumstances.

Sole custody might be granted when one parent is conclusively found unfit. This could be due to reasons such as substance abuse, neglect, or abusive behaviour. It may also be considered if the parent has a significant criminal record that could endanger the child’s welfare, is incarcerated, or is physically or mentally incapable of caring for the child.

Full custody ensures that the child’s upbringing is not compromised by the other parent’s detrimental behaviour or incapacity. It is crucial to note that such a decision is made with the child’s best interests as the paramount concern, ensuring their safety and stability.

4. Joint Custody

Joint custody is the preferable option, in which both spouses share custody of their children. This may include joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both. This setup allows the child to maintain a strong relationship with both parents, which can be crucial for their emotional and psychological health.

In joint legal custody, ex-partners share the obligation and ability to make important choices concerning their child’s development and well-being. Joint physical custody involves the kid living with each parent for varying lengths of time, requiring an adequate co-parenting plan and geographical proximity to reduce disturbance in their lives.

While joint custody can offer a fair and balanced approach, it is most successful when parents can maintain an amicable relationship. If disputes arise, courts may intervene to establish an arrangement that best serves the child’s interests, focusing on maintaining continuity and stability in their environment.

5. Flexible Arrangements

Flexible custody arrangements are becoming more common among separating couples who wish to tailor their parenting plan to fit their unique circumstances and lifestyles. This approach allows parents to adapt the custody and visitation schedule as needed without strict court-imposed constraints.

A perfect example of flexible arrangements is “bird-nesting”, where children remain in the family home while parents take turns living with them according to their custody schedule. This method minimises disruption in the child’s life by keeping them in a consistent and familiar environment, with parents rotating in and out.

Read also: How Many Marriages End in Divorce in the UK?

Flexible arrangements require clear communication and mutual cooperation between parents to ensure that the child’s routine, such as school activities, hobbies, and social interactions, is maintained without confusion.

This type of arrangement is predicated on the child’s ability to adapt and thrive in a less structured custody framework and relies heavily on the parents’ commitment to jointly manage their parenting responsibilities effectively.

What Factors Does the Court Consider While Deciding on Child Custody Arrangements?

In the UK, family courts consider several crucial factors to ensure that any child custody arrangement adheres to the child’s best interests. These include:

1. Child’s Welfare

The child’s welfare is the principal factor in any custody decision. The courts consider the child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs and evaluate which parent can best fulfil these needs while providing a secure and nurturing environment.

2. Child’s Wishes and Feelings

The child’s preferences are also considered, especially as they grow older and can form their reasoned views. The court may consider where the child wants to live and which parent they prefer to live with, depending on the child’s age and maturity.

3. Parental Responsibility and Cooperation

The ability of each parent to cooperate and communicate effectively on issues concerning the child is critically assessed. This includes each parent’s commitment to facilitating and respecting the child’s relationship with the other parent, thereby appropriately sharing parental responsibilities.

4. History of Domestic Abuse

Suppose there has been any history of domestic abuse, either towards the child or another party. In that case, this will heavily influence the court’s decision, potentially limiting or supervising the contact that the abusive parent has with the child.

5. Parental Capability

Courts also scrutinise each parent’s lifestyle, including their health, work commitments, and home environment. This helps determine their capability to meet the child’s daily needs and provide a stable upbringing.

Related article: What Am I Entitled to if I Divorce My Husband?

Family courts in the UK strive to ensure that the child or children involved have continuity and security in their living arrangements, always placing their best interests at the forefront of any custody arrangement. Contact Our Family Law Solicitors If facing challenges such as divorce settlement and child custody arrangements, Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors are here to help.

Contact Our Family Law Solicitors

If you are facing challenges such as divorce settlement and child custody arrangements, Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors are here to help. Our experienced family law solicitors provide comprehensive legal advice and compassionate support, ensuring you and your children’s best interests are safeguarded. 

Contact us today to navigate your custody disputes with confidence and care.


Yes, custody arrangements can be modified if there are major changes in circumstances, such as one parent relocating or the child’s needs changing. Any alterations must receive court approval to verify that they continue to align with the child’s best interests.

Courts evaluate multiple aspects when deciding on custody, such as the child’s age, health status, emotional connections with each parent, each parent’s capability to care for the child, and often the preferences of the child. The goal is to ensure a stable and healthy environment that supports the child’s development.

Joint custody means that both parents share parental obligations. This agreement may include both physical custody, which determines where the kid lives, and legal custody, which involves making significant decisions regarding the child’s upbringing.

UK courts do not prefer a single parent over another, depending on gender. The primary concern is the child’s best interests. Both mothers and fathers have equal rights and are equally considered when deciding custody based on their ability to provide a stable and supportive environment for the child.

The period could span from 6 months to 2 years, based on the difficulty of the case and the relation between the ex-partners. Simple cases may be handled in a matter of months, whereas more complex ones may take a year or more, particularly if several court sessions are required.

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