Making child arrangements during a divorce or separation

Guides & Advice
Published: 22nd June 2020
Area: Children

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The breakdown of a relationship is never easy and it can be even more difficult and emotional if children are involved, especially when it comes to making child arrangements.

Being able to co-parent through a separation is essential in ensuring that any emotional stress or disruption for the children is kept to a minimum. Whether your relationship breakdown has been amicable, or there have been disagreements from both sides, there are various approaches you can take to reach a solution that works for you and your ex-partner, and more importantly, considers and protects the long-term interests and welfare of your children.

You can read more about legally ending your marriage in our handy step-by-step guide to getting a divorce.

  1. Try to reach an agreement with your ex-partner

    If you and your ex-partner can reach an agreement on all matters relating to your children then you do not need to go to court – you can record what you’ve both agreed in a parenting plan. However, we suggest you seek the advice of a family lawyer to ensure that your agreement is legally binding, should there ever be disagreements or issues further down the line.

    Resolving and settling issues out of court is always preferred, as it causes the least disruption to your family life. It can also be much quicker and more effective if you can have an amicable conversation and agree between yourselves.

  2. Get help to reach an agreement through mediation or collaborative law

    It’s natural to not agree on everything. However, just because you and your ex-partner can’t agree on every aspect of your children’s’ arrangements it doesn’t these have to be settled in court. Mediation or collaborative law can be used as a way to work together, alongside an impartial mediator, to secure the best future for your children and without the hefty court fees.

  3. Ask the family court to make a decision

    If you cannot reach an agreement between yourselves, or through mediation, then you can ask the family court to make a decision. As these court proceedings can be emotional and stressful, this approach should only be taken as a last resort. Because of this, before applying for a court order, you will have to attend a MIAMS (Mediation Information and Assessment) meeting to go through the options available first. You attend this on your own (i.e. your ex-partner does not attend your meeting) and you can then decide if mediation is something you would like to try.

  4. After you’ve made your family court application

    Once you've applied for a court order then the court will arrange a ‘directions hearing’ with you and your ex-partner (i.e. both parents), designed to figure out what aspects you both agree or disagree on. As your children's welfare is central to all proceedings, the judge or magistrate will also assess if your children are at risk in any way at all.

    If there are no concerns over your children's welfare, during the hearing you'll be encouraged to reach an agreement if it's in your children's best interests that you do so. If you are able to agree then the court will record what you've agreed in a consent order and could end the process. If you're unable to reach an agreement at the first hearing then the process will continue and the judge or magistrate will set out what the next steps will be.

    The welfare of your children will remain the priority and will always be put first throughout the process. Your children's wishes will be taken into account (if applicable, depending on their age, etc.), as well the their emotional and physical needs and the possible impact that any changes to their routine may have on their wellbeing.

    A court will only make an order if they think it is in your children’s best interests to do so.

  5. Enforcing a child arrangements court order

    If your ex-partner is not following the court order then you can ask the court to enforce it. It is worth noting that the court may not enforce the existing order if they feel your ex-partner has good reason to not follow it, or if they believe the order is no longer in your children’s best interests. You can go back to the court if you don’t agree with their decision.

Here we explain the process and the approaches available when making child arrangements if you're going through a divorce or separation.

What are the types of family court orders?

There are four types of family court orders relating to the arrangements of children:

  • Child arrangements order

    This determines where your children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent and when this will be (including important events such as religious holidays or birthdays).

    It will also set out what other contact will take place outside of the physical contact, such as regular phone and video calls.

  • Specific issues order

    This addresses specific issues around your children’s upbringing, such as where they will go to school, whether they will have a particular religious upbringing, or what their surname should be following your divorce.

    It can also determine who will make decisions about your children’s healthcare, or if permission is needed if either of you want to take your children out of the UK.

  • Prohibited steps order

    This prevents the other parent from making decisions around the children’s upbringing (such as where they will go to school, whether they will have any particularly religious upbringing).

  • Leave to remove

    This is an application to seek the court’s consent to take the children out of the country to live abroad or to go on holiday.

    You can read more about taking your children on holiday here >>

Getting Legal Advice

During, and following, a relationship breakdown, the primary focus and concern should always be the welfare of any children that are involved.

If you’re currently going through a divorce or separation involving children, our team of child custody lawyers will support and guide you through what can be an incredibly emotional journey.

Our child-centric approach never loses sight of the long-term interests of you and your children.

Get In Contact

Helen has over twenty years of experience in advising clients in relation to family law issues. Helen has particular expertise in representing clients with substantial wealth and has many cases involving family businesses, trusts and farms.

Helen also advises parents in complex children cases including international relocation.



Parenting through a separation is never easy. Our team of experts are on hand to guide you through the process of making child arrangement orders, always ensuring the long-term interests of your children remain at the heart of every child custody decision.

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