FAQs: Family law and children


What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility means the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent in relation to a child. A mother has parental responsibility for her children from their birth, as will her husband. For unmarried couples, the father can acquire this right by registering the birth of the child jointly with the mother through a parental responsibility agreement with the child's mother, or by applying to the court. If a couple divorce, they will not lose the right to parental responsibility.

What is a statement of arrangements?

During the process of divorce, a statement of arrangements gives details of how the parents propose to support their children. If the couple agree on parental contact and financial maintenance, the court is likely to approve. If agreement cannot be reached, the court can make an order regarding the care and maintenance of the children.

Who pays child maintenance?

After divorce, regular financial payments will be required to secure the welfare of a child. The non-resident parent pays child maintenance to the parent who largely cares for the child. The amount of child maintenance can be agreed informally between divorcees. Alternatively, they can utilise the Child Support Agency (CSA) or ask for a court order. Both the CSA and the courts can take action, if child maintenance remains unpaid.

What is a contact order?

A contact order, like a residence order, is a matter of private law between two individuals, and thus does not apply to children in care. Anyone who has parental responsibility may apply for a contact order, without having to ask the court for permission beforehand. Otherwise, others such as grandparents can apply to the court for permission to issue an application for contact. A contact order means that the person with care, whom the child lives with, must allow their charge to visit, stay or have meetings with the person named in the order.

What is a residence order?

A residence order states with whom a child is to live. If someone other than a parent is granted a residency order, it means that they will automatically acquire parental responsibility for the child.
A residence order will generally last until the child is 16. A residence order may be used to prevent someone removing a child from the UK without the agreement of everyone with parental responsibility or without a court order.  

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