Child Custody Q&A

Custody of your child, known as child arrangements in court, can be an especially worrying topic. If you’re going through a family breakdown, chances are you’re balancing personal struggles with your child’s best interests, future and emotional wellbeing.

At Laurus, we have a number of experts in our Family Law team with experience in making child arrangements less stressful for you, and ultimately delivering a better outcome for your children. In this article, our Head of Family Law Steven Gasser, and Senior Associate Darren Francis answer some commonly asked questions on child custody.

What age does a child have a say in their custody arrangements in the UK?

SG: “There’s no prescribed age for a child’s wishes and feelings to be determinative in their contact arrangements. Each case is taken on the individual child, their emotional maturity, and of course we balance that with the possibility that their wishes might be affected by someone else.

Generally speaking, though, a child of about 11 or 12 would have a lot of influence over their arrangements, and at 13 their wishes would be very close to determinative. As a teenager, it would almost be inevitable that their wishes would exclusively determine the arrangement, as long as their wishes hadn’t been interfered with.”

How do a child’s wishes and feelings get recorded?

DF: “It will depend on the individual. When you go through court, CAFCASS will interview the whole family, including the parents and children, to record their feelings. In more serious public law matters the court could appoint a children’s guardian to advocate for the children. In mediation, you can appoint a mediator who is qualified to talk with your child, known as direct consultation with children.

Can my child refuse a visit from someone?

SG: “Following on from the first question – they can, if their wishes are so strongly expressed, and again there has been no interference from anyone else, such as the other parent.”

DF: “And again, while we wouldn’t expect a small child to necessarily know what is in their best interests, once they reach a certain age a child’s feelings should definitely be considered, as they are able to express the reasons why they don’t want to see someone.”

Can a parent stop someone from seeing their child?

SG: “A parent can effectively stop any arrangements that are in place with another parent, or a third party such as grandparents, and often people lose sight of this. 

It can be frustrating, and we know it’s hard to understand why you’re not allowed to see your child when the other parent hasn’t given a legitimate reason.

On the other hand, a guardian can stop someone seeing a child for safety reasons. We’ve obtained prohibitive steps orders which stop that contact when there is a welfare issue – this is only in situations where contact with that person would not be in a child’s best interests.”

Many clients worry about the costs that might be involved. How much does a child arrangement order cost in the UK?

SG: “It can cost as much or as little as the parties want it to, effectively. The main piece of advice I would give is to stay in control of your costs – know what your budget is, and what your ideal outcome is, so you can create a very clear strategy with your team to how you’re going to achieve this.”

DF: “You definitely have a few options which will be more cost-effective than court, which can have an unlimited number of hearings in children matters. One route that can work quite well is negotiating through your solicitors, or in mediation. You can then draw up a consent order which will be sent to court to be sealed.”

While these FAQs are a general guide, no two children are the same – which is why we would encourage you to speak to an expert who can come up with a tailored plan that’s right for you.

If you need advice on contact arrangements, or any other aspect of family law, feel free to get in touch with our Family Team on 020 3146 6300, or for friendly, professional and strictly confidential advice.