Making child arrangements if you divorce or separate

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After you apply for a court order

The court will arrange a ‘directions hearing’ with both parents if you apply for a court order.

There will usually be a family court adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) at the hearing.

Cafcass will send you information before the hearing - they’ll usually ring you too.

At the hearing, a judge or magistrate will try to work out:

  • what you can agree
  • what you cannot agree
  • if your child is at risk in any way

They’ll encourage you to reach an agreement if it’s in the child’s best interests. If you can, and there are no concerns about the child’s welfare, the judge or magistrate can end the process.

The court will make a consent order which sets out what you’ve agreed, if necessary.

If you cannot agree at the first court hearing

The judge or magistrate will set a timetable for what happens next.

They may ask you to try again to reach an agreement, for example by going to a meeting with a mediator.

You may have to go on a course if your case is about child arrangements. The course is called a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’, and could help you find a way to make child arrangements work.

You usually have to go to one or 2 meetings, depending on the type of programme. Your ex-partner will not be at the same meetings as you.

If you reach an agreement at any stage, the judge or magistrate can stop the process.

Cafcass reports

The court can ask Cafcass to provide a report on your case to help decide what’s best for the child.

The Cafcass officer may ask your child about their feelings. You’ll get a copy of the report when it’s written.

What judges and magistrates consider

They’ll always put the welfare of children first. They will think about the:

  • child’s wishes and feelings
  • child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
  • effect any changes may have on the child
  • child’s age, gender, characteristics and background
  • possible risk of harm to the child
  • ability of parents to meet the child’s needs
  • orders the court has the power to make

A judge or magistrate will only make an order if they think it’s in the child’s best interests.

If you want to change your application

Use form C2 to change an application that the court is still considering.

The fee depends on what you’re asking the court to do. You pay the court:

  • £184 if you still want the court to decide your case through a court hearing
  • £58 if you and your ex-partner have agreed and you want the court to approve your consent order without a court hearing
  1. Step 1 Get support and advice

    You can get support or counselling to help you through the divorce process.

    1. Get support and advice from Relate
    2. Find a counsellor on Counselling Directory
  2. Step 2 Check if you can get divorced

  3. Step 3 Make arrangements for children, money and property

  4. Step 4 Apply for a divorce

  5. Step 5 Apply for a ‘conditional order’ or ‘decree nisi’

  6. Step 6 Finalise your divorce

  7. Step 7 Report that your circumstances have changed

    You also have to tell other government organisations that you're getting divorced if: