Complete Guide to Child Law in the UK

Child arrangement orders or lives with orders refer to the rights parents have when it comes to making decisions that impact their children’s lives and upbringing.

These decisions are usually related to education, religion and general health and well-being. These rights apply to couples who are divorced or separated.

Parents in this situation need to understand the legal framework of child law. Doing so can reduce the impact the separation has on their children’s lives.

If you don’t have an understanding of these laws then you could risk your children’s well-being and potentially damage your custody rights.

This article will act as a full in-depth guide on custody law in the UK. But for more information, it would be best to speak with a member of our family law team. 

parent responsibilities looking after child

Understanding Arrangements for Children in the UK

Child arrangement orders place a focus on your child’s living arrangements and contact with each parent. 

These orders are designed to keep your child’s interests at heart. That way their emotional, physical and educational needs can be met. 

What are custody disputes?

Custody disputes refer to legal conflicts and disagreements between parents or legal guardians over the custody arrangements of their children. 

These disputes often arise in the context of divorce, separation, or when parents are no longer together. 

The central issue in a custody dispute is determining the living arrangements, visitation schedules and decision-making authority regarding a child’s upbringing. 

Custody disputes can be emotionally charged and complex, involving considerations of each parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment.

Resolving custody disputes may involve family mediation, negotiation, or, if necessary, legal proceedings in family court, where a judge makes decisions based on the best interests of the child.

happy parent with happy child holding teddy bear.

Types of Child Arrangement Orders

These are the different types of custody available to those based in the UK.

Sole Residence Lives with Order

This is when one parent is granted both legal and physical custody of the child. 

This parent is responsible for making all major decisions about the child’s upbringing, including education, healthcare and religion. 

The non-custodial parent may have visitation rights or scheduled contact, but the primary custodian has the ultimate authority.

Joint Residence Lives with Order

This type of custody involves shared responsibilities between parents. In joint legal custody, both parents have equal decision-making authority regarding the child’s welfare. 

Joint physical custody extends this sharing to the child’s living arrangements, with the child spending significant time with each parent. 

The schedule for physical custody can vary widely, depending on the parents’ agreement or court order.

Shared Care Arrangement

Shared custody, often referred to as joint custody, is a legal arrangement in which both parents share the responsibility for making important decisions about the upbringing of their child or children. 

Shared custody emphasises the cooperative involvement of both parents in your child’s welfare.

There are two main components to shared custody:

Shared Parental Responsibility

Grants both parents equal decision-making authority regarding the major aspects of your child’s life. Both parents are involved in discussions and decisions related to your child’s education, medical care, extracurricular activities and other significant matters.

Shared Physical Custody

Involves both parents sharing the actual physical care and residence of your child. Your child will spend significant time with each parent, and the specific schedule can vary based on the parents’ agreement or court order. This could mean, for example, your child spends alternating weeks, weekends, or specific weekdays with a different parent.

getting child ready for school

What factors are considered in child arrangement order cases?

Common factors considered in live with order cases include:

Child’s Wishes

The court may take into account your child’s preferences, depending on their age and maturity. However, the weight given to your child’s wishes can vary, and it’s not the sole determining factor.

Parental Fitness 

The physical and mental health of each parent is evaluated. Courts consider whether each parent is capable of providing a safe and stable environment for their child. Parents need to have the ability to provide for the basic needs of their children. The courts will also take a look at a parent’s criminal record and use their findings in their assessment.

Stability and Continuity

Courts often prefer to maintain stability and continuity in your child’s life. This includes considering your child’s current living situation, school, community ties and the potential impact of a custody change.

helping children with homework

History of Abuse or Neglect

Any history of domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect can significantly impact custody decisions. The safety and well-being of your child is paramount. 

If there are any protective orders that have been taken out against a parent then the court will take them into consideration also. 

Parental Bonding

The strength of the emotional bond between you and your child is considered. This includes your ability to provide emotional support and meet the child’s needs.

Geographic Proximity

The geographic proximity of your residence can be a factor, particularly in joint physical custody cases. Courts may assess the practicality of shared custody based on the distance between you and the other parent.

Financial Stability

Your financial stability and your ability to provide for your child’s needs will be considered as this is a big determining factor.

Parental Work Schedules

The work schedules of each parent are evaluated to ensure your child’s needs can be met by providing appropriate supervision.

How to get custody of my child in the UK 

The custody process usually follows these steps:

Submit application

To initiate the child arrangement order in the UK you’ll need to fill out an application form with the court. This can be done by one parent only.

This submission can be done as a standalone application or through a divorce or separation case. 

These applications will usually involve sharing some key information including:

  • Child living arrangements. 
  • Your relationship with the child.
  • Any other relevant information.


Before going to court, you may be required to attend mediation. 

This is a process where a neutral third party helps you and the other parent discuss and resolve issues related to the child, including custody arrangements.

Mediation is a structured process in which a neutral third party, known as a mediator, assists you or parties in resolving disputes or conflicts. 

The goal of mediation is to facilitate open communication, promote understanding and help you reach a mutually agreeable solution.

Court Process

If mediation is unsuccessful, you may need to initiate court proceedings. 

In the UK, family court handles issues related to child arrangement orders. 

You can apply for a Child Arrangements Order, which outlines where the child will live and how much time they’ll spend with each parent.

In court, both parties will have time to present their evidence during their hearings. 

The court will hear what each party has to say and then make a decision with the child’s interest put above all.  

To get an even deeper understanding of each case a court may also get the help of external services e.g. social workers and psychologists.

reading to child at home

How long are custody battles in the UK?

The duration of custody battles in the UK can vary significantly and depends on various factors, including:

  • The complexity of the case. 
  • The specific circumstances involved. 
  • The willingness of parties to reach an agreement. 

Some custody disputes may be resolved relatively quickly through mediation or negotiation, while others may take several months or even years if they proceed to court.

The live with orders process can be influenced by several factors such as the need for assessments, the backlog of cases in the court system and the complexity of legal issues involved.

What are the chances of a father getting 50/50 custody in the UK?

There is no guarantee of getting a 50/50 split when it comes to child arrangement orders in England and Wales.

There are many factors that can influence this decision which is why a 50/50 split cannot be guaranteed.

The courts make such decisions with the child’s best interest put at the forefront. 

Helping you navigate issues with your child during divorce

Issues relating to child law during a divorce or separation can be highly stressful subjects.

The family life can be disrupted which can then negatively impact the lives of your children. 

It’s only normal to want to mitigate this impact as much as possible should you find yourself in such a situation.

That’s where we can help you.

Being family solicitors who have been in business for over 130 years, we have a great understanding of these scenarios.

That’s why we have a team of experienced legal professionals who are there to assist you when it comes to divorce and child arrangement issues.
If you would like to know more about how we can help you, reach out to our team.