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Custody and access family law

Custody and access

During the difficult period of relationship separation, as a parent you will want to resolve the issue of where your children will live and the day to day arrangements for looking after them. We encourage you to try and reach an arrangement yourselves, although if this is not possible then you can try mediation (see further below), negotiate through solicitors or make a court application.

Children disputes typically relate to:

  • With whom your child should live (previously called custody or residence);
  • With whom they should otherwise spend time (previously called access or contact); or
  • Other specific issues.


If all else fails (direct negotiations, negotiations through solicitors and mediation) the court maybe the only option.   Before going down that route, you must consider mediation if it has not been explored before.   You will be required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before an application can be made to the court. You can find out more about mediation here (link to mediation page). The emphasis more than ever before is on agreeing arrangements for children, and avoiding where at all possible, the court process.

Court involvement

If mediation is unsuccessful or unsuitable, an application can be made to the family court to resolve the dispute.  The law that deals with these issues is called the Children Act 1989. Legal parents and certain other adults are entitled to apply; others need to ask the court’s permission as a first step. The court can make the following orders:

  • A child arrangements order
    • This will regulate when and with whom your  child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact.
  • A specific issue order
    • This will determine a particular issue, such as which school your child should attend or his or her medical treatment.
  • A prohibited steps order
    • This will prevent someone from taking any action specified by the court without the approval of the court. This could be appropriate when, for example, there is a suggestion that the other parent might remove your child from the country without your consent.


When resolving children related disputes through the courts, it is usually the case that you will pay your own legal costs. The court may order one party to cover the others costs, if it considers, for example, that their conduct has been particularly unreasonable. However this is rare and the courts are discouraged from making such orders.

Confidentiality of Documents

We assure you that all court documents in relation to children proceedings are confidential (other than court orders). Documents may only be disclosed to the parties, their lawyers, the court welfare officer and the court.   Breach of this principle is called a contempt of court and can be punished by a fine and/or imprisonment.

Contact our Family Law specialists

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