If you are getting a divorce which involves court proceedings the court will not grant the divorce until it has looked at the arrangements for the children . If they are acceptable to both parents. the court will not make an order in relation to the child or children. It will only make a court order where it is necessary to do so to resolve a dispute.

If you are thinking of going to court about arrangements for children, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example a family law solicitor .


As already mentioned, a court will only make an order concerning children if it feels it is in the best interest of the child to do so. The main orders that may be made by a court are:

  • Residence order
    A residence order determines with whom the child or children should live. It can be made in favour of one parent (or partner in a civil partnership) This means that the child must live with that parent. A residence order can also be made in favour of both parents even if they are not living together. The order will specify how much time the child will live with each parent.
  • Contact Order
    The court will normally expect the parents to make their own arrangements to ensure that each of them maintains contact with the children. The court will only make an order if they cannot agree.

    The Contact order may include conditions specifying where and how often contact should take place. It may also specify the type of contact, for example, visiting, telephoning or writing letters,. Orders can also be made to allow contact between the child and for example other relatives such as grandparents.
  • Prohibited Steps Order
    A parent with parental Responsibility can ask the court to order that another person is prevented in taking certain steps to do with the children.

    You can apply to the court if you think your partner is likely to try and change the school your children attend. This Order will also help you if your partner is thinking of taking the children to live abroad. If your partner has taken the children out of the country then you may be able to get the children back with the help of the court .
  • Specific Issue Order
    This order will deal with a single important issue concerning a child or children.

    If you and your partner cannot decide about a specific issue to do with the children, for example, what school they should go to, whether to change their surname, whether they should have a major operation etc., you can apply to the court and let them decide. Or, if the children have been removed from your care you may need a Specific Issue Order telling your partner that they must be returned to you.

Parental Responsibility

The term Parental Responsibility covers all rights, duties powers and responsibilities which a parent has for a child. This includes providing a home, feeding and clothing, providing protection and security, and ensuring that the child receives a satisfactory education. If you have got parental responsibility, this continues after the end of your relationship with your partner.

If you were married at the time of the child’s birth or if you married each other after the birth, both mother and father of the child will automatically have parental responsibility.

If the father and mother were not married at the time of the birth of the child, the father does not have parental responsibility unless:

  • He registered the birth jointly with the mother (after December 2003)
  • He and the mother made a formal parental responsibility agreement
  • A court granted the father legal parental responsibility
  • He is appointed as guardian
  • He and the child’s mother marry

If you are a father, but you are not married to your partner and the children are not living with you then you may not have the right to make important decisions concerning the children. If you want this right then you can apply to the court for an order. This is called a "Parental Responsibility Order".

You may not need to go to court in order to get Parental Responsibility. If you and your partner agree then you can enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement, this is a type of contract. Your solicitor should be able to give you the Form you will need and help you to complete it. The Form must be signed by both parents and the parent's signatures will need to be witnessed by an Officer of the Court or a Magistrate. The Form then has to be sent to the Principal Registry of the High Court. It will not be an effective agreement until it has been sent to the court and registered there.

If you are married or in a civil partnership, you may be able to get parental responsibility as a step-parent. You are a step-parent if you are the wife, husband, or civil partner of a child’s parent and are not the parent of the child yourself. Your partner must have parental responsibility of the child. Your partner (or both parents if they both have parental responsibility) must agree to give you parental responsibility. You might have to apply to court for parental responsibility. If you get a Residence Order then you will automatically have Parental Responsibility for a child. Therefore a stepfather or other family relative who gets a residence order will also have Parental Responsibility. Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 step-fathers can also acquire parental responsibility or enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the natural mother. However, this section of the Act has not as yet come into force.