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A guide to joint custody

Child custody law establishes who should be responsible for the care and charge of a child after divorce or separation. The term ‘custody’ is more frequently referred to as residency, meaning there must be an agreement as to where the child’s main residence is following a parental break up. In most cases where parents separate or divorce, their preference is to opt for joint custody (or residency), allowing the child to spend an equal amount of time with each parent. With joint custody, the parents agree they each have the right to make decisions that may affect the child.

What are the advantages of joint custody?

The shared parenting route is extremely popular because it allows the child or children to feel as though they have two properly involved parents, meaning they do not spend all of their 'routine time' with one parent and only 'leisure time' with the other. The parents can then share 'moral authority' in the eyes of the children, so they have free access to both their parents if there are any issues affecting them.

What if a dispute can’t be resolved?

It’s true that in cases where parents are unable to agree on joint custody, going to court can be the most sensible option, yet it’s important to understand that most court cases between parents conclude rather amicably with agreed residency or joint residency as the outcome. In disputed cases, each parent is assessed before a decision is made on whom should have custody of the child(s), whilst any access and maintenance payments from the ‘non resident parent’ are also taken into consideration. It’s also important to note that not all custody disputes involve the mother and the father. For example, there may be cases whereby a third party (such as an aunt, uncle or grandparent) may seek custody as a result of a parent’s death or incapacity.

How do courts make decisions?

The law states that courts should not make court orders regarding children, unless it is better for the child if they do. This is why courts actively encourage parents to work out solutions between themselves when possible, and why so many cases end affably. Before a case goes to court, almost all parents will try mediation to come to an agreement. In fact, before you can even go to court you will need to show that you have been to a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting.

Of course, some cases can be rather complex and if courts are asked to make a decision, they will do so with the child’s wellbeing their primary consideration, and not the parents. This therefore means that they will initially put aside any arguments over who provides the most money or spends the most time with the child, with the primary goal ensuring the child has a good relationship with both parents. That said, cases can be individually complex and they may consider:

  • The child’s wishes, thoughts and feelings (taking into account their age and understanding).
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • Any impact on the child if there has been a change of circumstances.
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any other relevant characteristics or individualities.
  • Any harm (or risk of harm) to the child.
  • The ability of the parents to provide for the child and ensure they have everything they need.

Whilst the judge will set out what is best for the child or children at a Dispute Resolution Hearing or DRA, they may also order both parents attend the Separated Parents Information Programme, which is a 4-hour course detailing how to parent effectively whilst separating. Rest assured you’ll never be asked to attend the same day as your ex-partner.

How can you help your children when going through a breakup?

As discussed, joint custody is the most likely outcome for parents going through separations and divorces in the UK, however, we know just how important it is to ensure the stresses of the relationship breakdown does not negatively impact on a child’s wellbeing. Below, we’ve added just a few of the ways you can help the children through such a stressful period:

  • Explain that any disagreement is purely between yourself and your ex-partner and they are in no way to blame. We can’t stress how important it is to apologise to your children during this time and that you understand how difficult it is for them.
  • You should also let them know just how much you both love and care for them and that you will always be a family.
  • Do not blame the other parent or talk about them in an uncooperative way in front of your children.
  • Inform the school or any other person who looks after your children of the situation, because it’s going to be important they understand the child may require a little extra care and attention.

What if there has been domestic abuse or if the children have been harmed?

In this case it’s essential to speak to a good family law solicitor, such as Noble Solicitors – as we’re best placed to guide you through the process, ensuring you have the evidence required to take the issue to court, and in such a situation, you would not have to prove that you have first looked at using a family mediation service.

Speak to Noble Solicitors about your needs

At Noble Solicitors, our vastly experienced and highly trained team of family law solicitors fight for your rights and the rights of your children, working tirelessly to provide the best solution for the issues at hand – no matter how complicated the case may be. Our solutions are simple, realistic and achievable and you can learn more about us and how we can help you by calling us today on 07000 81 82 83 or by emailing

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