In this article we shall look at the common questions you will face when considering your options with child custody in a divorce.
Divorce can be a very difficult time for children. The initial coming to terms with the fact that their parents will no longer be living together, coupled with the uncertainty of what will happen to them, can result in a great deal of stress for children of almost any age.
It can sometimes be difficult to know how much to tell your child about your divorce but leaving them in the dark can sometimes cause more anxiety. With Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie's child custody agreements still in their early stages, we thought we'd take a look at what you can expect when it comes to child custody.
What is custody?
Custody is also referred to as residence (the more "modern" term). Custody and residence are terms we used to describe where the children will live after or during divorce.
The other parent will usually have "contact" or "access" (again, contact is the more "modern" term, but some people still call it access) with the children.
Who decides what will happen to our children when we divorce?
Most parents are able to come to an arrangement between themselves about what will happen to their children, both during and after their divorce.
If this isn't possible, parents can use mediation (where an independent third party mediates your discussions) or collaborative law (discussions between both parents with their lawyers present). If no agreement can be reached in these ways, or they aren't appropriate to your situation, you can ask a court can decide what is best for your children.
What is a Statement of Arrangements?
This is one of a number of forms that is usually given to the courts together with your divorce petition, on which you can describe what you propose will happen to your children after you divorce. It's good to agree this with your spouse before you submit it.
How do the courts decide custody arrangements?
A court will always have your children's welfare as the "paramount consideration" when they're deciding where they should live and the contact arrangements with the other parent. As part of their decision making, they will take into account things such as the educational needs of the child, the effect any change of circumstances would have on the child and the child's background.
The courts approach to custody arrangements can differ from state to state. However, you also need to be aware different countries also have differing approaches. In particular if you are a UK citizen the courts also deem children as the primary consideration. Hence, it is also important to ensure your family law solicitor is familiar with the implications of overseas laws where necessary.
If you are unable to decide between yourselves or with a mediator then the court can be asked to decide what is best for the children.
When a marriage breaks down and the court is asked to look at arrangements for any children involved, their primary consideration will always be the children's welfare and needs. The financial provision for children is usually decided at the same time as other finances, especially if the person taking primary care responsibilities has much less wealth and assets than the other parent. The rule of thumb is that if one parent is taking the majority of responsibility for looking after the children then the other must pay towards the children's upkeep.
There are a number of different court orders that you'll be able to apply for such as a Child Arrangement Order or a Specific Issue Order.
A Prohibited Steps Order is also possible to make sure the other parent can't make any decisions about the upbringing of the child.
Divorce is an emotional time, especially when there are children involved. Specialist legal advice as to what to expect during the process can help you to understand what your rights are and decide what is best for your children. Getting this advice early on can hopefully reduce the likelihood of a long and drawn out custody battle.
Can a child decide who they want to live with?
The court will listen to your children's feelings, although the older the child is, the more weight the court will give to their feelings.
How can I make our divorce as stress-free as possible for the children?
Having an open, honest, age-appropriate discussion with your children about your divorce can really help children to come to terms with the situation. Ideally, if possible, this should be done with your spouse present. Try to answer any questions they have as honestly as possible and reassure them that you both still love them.
Having a broad understanding of child custody processes can help you to reassure and answer any questions your children may have.
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