‘Custody’ has been the well-known term for separated parents for many years. However, in reality it no longer exists in England and Wales.
In 2014 there was a radical shift in the legal jurisdictions in England and Wales to recognise and give voice to a focus on a child’s welfare and rights as the paramount concern as opposed to the parent’s perceived ‘rights’.
‘Custody’ implied ownership of a child – something some parents might find comforting at a time of relationship breakdown and emotional fracture, but ultimately frames a child as a possession to be fought over. Nowadays, the correct term is ‘Child Arrangements’.
- The starting assumption is that all children benefit from regular quality time with both of their parents.
- Wider family, such as grandparents and siblings, are included in this assumption, though they cannot use the Court to enforce their contact in the same way (talk to a family lawyer if you are an extended family member seeking time with a child).
- Any restriction on time with one parent is based on the child’s welfare – this doesn’t necessarily correspond with how good/bad the parents’ relationship with each other is.
So, my child gets a say?
A child’s wishes and feelings are considered, dependent on their age and emotional maturity. Of course, some children can give mixed messages, and sometimes they may say what they believe their parent wants them to say. It is undoubtedly difficult for everyone, and support from a family therapist may help a child adjust to the changes and articulate their needs to both parents. Their wishes will, of course, be balanced with their best interests – and time with both of their parents is almost always encouraged and beneficial.
So, who do they live with?
The closest thing to ‘custody’ may be a ‘live with’ order. This would be a Court order setting out the arrangements for a child to spend time with both parents and specify a child will ‘live with’ one parent. The time schedule may still be near 50:50 even with this kind of order.
The main impact of this order is that the parent who the child does not ‘live with’ must seek permission for taking the child abroad.
Overall, you as a parent do have rights within the Court system, just like you have responsibilities too – and these are all centered around your child’s welfare.
Ultimately, the Court wants YOU – the parents – to agree what is happening for your child. You don’t need to be friends – a past client once told me something that has always stuck in my mind:
“We are not friends, but we are business partners – our joint project is our children. I don’t have to like him. We both want our project to be successful (and happy) for her own sake – that’s what matters.”