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What happens to children in a divorce?

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Getting divorced with kids can be particularly tough, with arrangements for your children and their emotional wellbeing to consider. Exactly what happens to children in divorce will depend on the circumstances, so it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with your options and how arrangements can be decided as soon as divorce becomes a possibility.

In this blog, we cover what happens when you divorce with children, what the best child arrangements might be for your situation, how the family home might be dealt with, the processes you can use to decide child arrangements and the impact of divorce on children.

It should be noted that this blog is not intended as legal advice about divorce and children – it is for educational purposes only. Should you wish to discuss your specific situation, our divorce and separation solicitors will be happy to answer any queries you may have.

For expert advice in relation to divorce with children, please call one of our offices in Banbury, Bicester and Rugby or simply fill out our enquiry form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

What happens when you divorce with a child?

When getting divorced with kids, their needs must come first. You will either need to agree on child arrangements with your former spouse or have a court decide these for you.

The most common possibilities are:

Shared care

Shared care means that the children spend some time living with each parent. This might mean Monday to Friday with one parent and weekends with the other, but really, any arrangement is possible, as long as it matches the children’s best interests.

Sole care with agreed contact with the second parent

The children may live full-time with one parent, then see and/or speak to the other parent at agreed times. This may be a good arrangement where one parent is unable to have the children live with them or this is considered unsuitable for any other reason.

If there are concerns about the children’s wellbeing in relation to the non-resident parent, then any contact with them can potentially be supervised.

Sole care with no contact with the second parent

If a second parent is considered to pose a risk to a child or simply does not wish to have a relationship with them, then it may be possible for the children to live with one parent full-time and have no contact with the second parent.

If you believe your children should not have contact with their other parent, then you will likely need a court order to that effect, unless the other parent agrees.

What is the best custody arrangement for children?

The first thing to note is that, while people often refer informally to ‘child custody’ this is not a term with any legal recognition in England or Wales. Instead, we talk about ‘child arrangements’.

The second thing to note is that what are the best child arrangements will vary considerably from family to family. However, the key thing to keep in mind is that the arrangements must be in the best interests of the children.

Factors to consider when deciding child arrangements (and that a court would look at if asked to decide) include:

  • The physical, emotional and educational needs of each child
  • Each parent’s ability to meet those needs
  • The impact any change of circumstances might have on a child
  • Each child’s background (e.g. their age, gender and any other characteristics that may impact their care requirements)
  • Any harm a child has experienced or is considered at risk of experiencing
  • Each child’s own wishes and feelings (with this given greater weight the older the child is)

Who gets the house in a divorce with children?

There are no hard and fast rules about which parent gets to stay in the family home following a divorce. That said, if one parent will be the primary carer, then it is common for them to stay in the family home with the children. This can help to minimise any potential negative effects of divorce on children.

Other options may include selling the family home and each parent then buying or renting a separate property. This may make more sense where the children are older and it is felt that moving home would be less disruptive for them.

If one parent does stay in the family home with the children, this does not mean that they necessarily have to become the sole owner of the house. A court order called a Mesher Order can be used to specify that one parent has the right to stay in the family home until a certain point (e.g. when all of the children have left home) at which point the property would be sold.

How to decide child arrangements following divorce

In almost all cases, child arrangements following divorce will be decided voluntarily between the parents. This might be agreed upon through a simple discussion or an alternative dispute resolution process, such as mediation, might be used.

Mediation involves you and your spouse working with a trained expert called a mediator who acts as a neutral third party to facilitate a productive discussion of what arrangements for your children should look like. This normally takes place over a number of sessions and you can meet with the mediator together or individually.

At the end of the mediation process, the mediator will produce a document called a Memorandum of Understanding setting out what you have agreed. This is not legally binding but does ensure both parents are clear on what has been agreed.

If you cannot agree on child arrangements together or this approach is not appropriate for your situation, then you can apply to a court for a Child Arrangements Order. This is a court order saying where your children will live and what contact each parent will have with them.

How do children typically cope with divorce?

How divorce affects children can be hard to predict. This is because every child is different, so the impact of divorce on children can vary significantly.

Effects of divorce on children can, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, include:

  • A sense of loss, including of their home and way of life
  • Feeling different
  • A fear of being left alone
  • Anger, either at one or both parents
  • Worry and guilt about possibly being responsible for the separation
  • Feelings of rejection and insecurity
  • Feeling torn between their two parents

There are various strategies parents can use to minimise any negative effects of divorce on children, such as openly communicating with their children, making sure they know both of their parents still love them and assuring them that the divorce is not their fault.

You can read more about how divorce affects children and how to deal with this on the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ website as well as in the divorce and separation resources offered by young people’s mental health charity, Young Minds.

Get expert advice on divorce with children in Banbury, Bicester and Rugby

If you would like expert help with divorce and children, please get in touch with a member of our team. We can also assist with any other questions or concerns you may have in relation to divorce and separation.

We have offices in Banbury, Bicester and Rugby working with clients across Coventry and Warwickshire, the West Midlands, Oxfordshire and nationwide.