When a couple gets a divorce in the UK, the custody of the children after divorce is not automatically decided as part of the process. The divorce itself is simply a declaration that the two parties are no longer legally married, which will eventually conclude with a “decree absolute” document. In addition to this process, ancillary relief is conducted, which settles financial disputes if there are any. Finally, childcare arrangements are made, dictating who gets custody of the children after the divorce and how money/assets will be divided in order to benefit the welfare of the children.
Statement of Arrangements for Children
If you are filing for divorce, but also have children from the marriage, then you must simultaneously file a “Statement of Arrangements for Children” too. This statement may be signed by the respondent or may not, depending on the circumstances surrounding the divorce. The form provides the court with basic information about the children from the marriage, including details such as their names, ages, schools, current living arrangements, caregivers and more. This form simply provides the court with information and is not a contract detailing how the children will be cared for by their parents. Contrary to popular belief, the courts do not make automatic decisions regarding childcare arrangements and child custody when a child’s parents divorce. Most of the time, assuming they are no unusual circumstances, such as an abusive spouse, the parents will arrange the child’s custody and living arrangements independently, not requiring a court order.
The law regarding children after a divorce
“Parental responsibility” applies to both the mother and father of a child upon marital separation. If the child’s parents are unmarried, the father will only have parental responsibility automatically if he is registered on the child’s birth certificate. A Parental Responsibility Agreement can also be signed by both parents, which would grant the unmarried father parental responsibility also. A father will be responsible for a child’s financial support whether he has legal parental responsibility or not. When the divorce proceedings begin, the court will have a conciliation agreement set up which is designed to get the two spouses to talk to a CAFCASS officer and reach a mutual childcare agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the CAFCASS officer will pass the spouses’ statements on to the court and make a recommendation regarding childcare arrangements.
How do the courts decide who gets custody (residency) of children in the UK?
The courts always prioritize a child’s wellbeing if they are forced to make decisions regarding a child’s custody and childcare arrangements. When making a decision, the court takes into account numerous things. These may include the child’s feelings and desires about their own future, as well as their needs relating to things such as love, affection, health, and housing concerns. The potential distress that the court’s decision could have on the child will also be taken into consideration, as well as other details about the child such as their age, sex, and general background information. If the child has needs relating to disabilities or perhaps a certain religion, these will also be considered. A child who has been subjected to domestic abuse will also have this taken heavily into account, with the innocent parent being obviously preferable. Similarly, if one parent is deemed unfit to provide support (for example, if they have drug or alcohol problems) then the court will usually rule in the other parent’s favour when it comes to childcare and custody of the children. Most of the time, the mother will be awarded the sole residency (custody) of the child, while around 20% of cases see the father being awarded sole residency. In approximately 20% of all divorces, there is a joint residency agreement in place for the children.
The law surrounding childcare arrangements is complicated and difficult, with legal experts usually recommending that arrangements for children after divorce are settled amicably out of court. However, if this cannot be achieved in your situation, you require legal advice and representation which you can trust. Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors can provide you with help when it comes to caring for your children after a divorce.