Child custody is also referred to as obtaining a Child Arrangement Order.
When separated parents cannot agree to the arrangements for their children, such as residence and contact, the decisions have to be made by the family court. The court will decide which parent the child(ren) live with (known as ‘residence’), how much of the time they spend with either parent and about the type, duration and frequency of visits (known as ‘contact’) to see the other parent.
See answers to frequently asked questions in our Free Family Law Advice Hub
It is always best to try to reach an agreement with your ex without going to the court. See our advice about conflict with exes. It’s better to find a solution you can live with than one which is imposed on you by a judge or magistrates. However when agreement is impossible and there is going to be a court hearing, you need to understand how decisions are made and what will influence the court’s decision making. A lot will depend on the evidence you give and that’s where ONRECORD can help. Sign up to ONRECORD here.
What will a Court take into consideration?
The Children Act 1989 sets out the court’s priorities:
- The child’s welfare will be the Court’s top priority.
- Any delay is seen as being bad for the child.
- The court will pay attention to the list of factors referred to as the welfare checklist:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of the child’s age and understanding);
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances;
- The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant;
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
- While taking account of the range of powers available to the Court.
Unless there is good evidence against it, the Court has to assume that the involvement of both parents in the life of a child will be beneficial to the child.
How will the Court decide my case?
It all depends on the evidence
The court will base its decision on the evidence. That may seem an odd and obvious thing to say, but what it means is that the court will not base its decision on some kind of prejudice such as that children should always live with their mother. That’s why being prepared with your evidence is so important.
The evidence is your written statement and what you say at the hearing
The court’s understanding of the evidence will come from reading your written statement and that of your ex, hearing evidence from both of you and maybe also from evidence given by a Child and Family Reporter appointed by CAFCASS. A Child and Family Reporter makes their report having seen you and the child(ren) and made enquiries. In some highly conflicted cases social services might become involved and write a report.
Your statement is crucial
Your written statement to the court is crucial in making your case. It will be most effective if you can back up what you say with factual evidence that supports it. If you keep a record of everything that happens, especially when things start to go wrong, you will have started gathering the evidence you will need to put into your written statement so that you make your best possible case. Good records will be helpful too when you speak to the Child and Family Reporter and will influence their recommendations to the court.
Keeping records is crucial
You won’t remember enough detail unless you keep a record
Keeping a record of what happens over time makes it much easier to prepare a good statement when the time comes. The better your records and the more you are able to give examples of things that have happened, the more the Court will understand, helping with decision making. Without a good record it’s difficult, not least because it can be very hard to remember exactly what happened. Some people seem to have a fantastic memory for everything their ex says or does and can give a very good impression of being in the right all the time. The court may be tempted to believe everything it is told unless you have a record of your own. If you have kept a record, you will not have to fall back on making general criticisms of your ex. Making a lot of rather vague criticisms (for example that your ex is rude to you in front of the children, or that your ex is unreliable or untrustworthy) can sound unreasonable and over-critical and can make you look bad if you don’t have real examples. You need to be able to describe the actual event and give the place, date and time. You’ll find that difficult if you haven’t got a written record.
Back your record up with other evidence
Anything that helps to prove that what you’re saying is true, is very important. Take photos or videos to show what happened and how the children have been. Save screenshots of texts and emails. Use location services on your phone to show where things happened. Make a note of who else was present who can be a witness. All of these things strengthen your evidence.
What if I’m facing false allegations?
Unfortunately there are cases where what’s being said is not true and you could find that false allegations are being made against you. If you keep an accurate record of events you will be able to set the record straight and prove your case. For example,if you’re accused of turning up late to contact, photos or videos which are automatically tagged with location and time would prove that’s not true. Save evidence to show how you spent your contact time, where you went and what you did.
What if my ex is a risk to the children?
The court presumes that both parents will stay involved with the children unless there is good evidence against it. If you have real concerns that your ex presents a serious risk to a child it’s even more important to say so in your statement and are clear about your concerns to the court and CAFCASS. To prove that your anxiety is justified you will need to present detailed examples together with as much supporting evidence as you can.
How can ONRECORD help with getting child custody or a child arrangement order?
Gathering evidence is the most important part in any legal case, and when it comes to child custody or child arrangement orders, it can be hard to assess a suitable outcome without sufficient evidence and a record of events.
Using ONRECORD gives you what you need to collect and store important evidence. We have online help and an app to offer a simple and confidential way to record events and store photographs.
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Take a look at the advanced features ONRECORD provides.
See some records made using ONRECORD to help you understand what kind of records you should keep.
Separated Dads gives support and advice for separated fathers.
Action for Children provides advice on how to make parenting arrangements and a contact plan with your ex.
Family Lives provide professional, non-judgmental support and advice in a way that all members of the family can freely access.