Care arrangements when parents have separated
When the parents of a child separate, one of the most important issues to work out is how you’ll arrange the care of your child, including whether one or both parents will have day-to-day care and if only one parent has day-to-day care, when and how the other parent will have contact with the child.
It’s much better if the parents can reach an agreement themselves about care arrangements. The Care of Children Act specifically refers to these kinds of agreements as “parenting agreements”. Although a parenting agreement isn’t legally binding like a court order or a commercial contract, the Family Court can turn a parenting agreement into a court order called a “Consent Order”.
If you can’t reach an agreement, you can apply to the Family Court for a “Parenting Order”. There are two ways you can apply for a Parenting Order; a “without notice” application or a “with notice” application. If your case is not urgent, your case will follow the “with notice” track.
A without notice application is an urgent case that can be looked at without the other person being told about your application, your case will follow the “without notice track”.
For more information about getting a benefit from Work and Income when you’re separated from your children’s other parent, see: “Qualifying for Sole Parent Support”.
Ways of resolving disputes about care arrangements
The Family Court provides access to a Family Dispute Resolution (“FDR”) service, where a mediator will help you try to reach an agreement. This process is free to people whose income is below a certain amount; other people will need to pay (see: “‘Family Dispute Resolution’: Mediation through the Family Court”).
If you decide to take your dispute to the Family Court, you and the other person usually have to go through the Family Dispute Resolution process with an approved FDR mediator first. You (the person applying) usually have to go to a Parenting Through Separation course through the Family Court.
In some cases, the judge may arrange a lawyer to represent your child (see: “Will a lawyer be appointed for my child?”).
If the dispute isn’t resolved at an earlier stage, such as at a settlement conference, the last resort will be a court hearing (a “defended hearing”) where a Family Court judge will decide what the care arrangements will be (see: “The court hearing: How the judge decides what to do”).
“Parenting Through Separation” courses
The Family Court provides free “Parenting Through Separation” courses, to help separated parents understand how separation affects their children and to help them manage the process and deal more constructively with each other.
The course is four hours long, held over one or two days. The courses are run by an experienced facilitator to small groups. Your group will include other parents who are separated or who are thinking about separating.
Note: If your ex-partner also goes to one of the courses, they won’t be at the same sessions as you.
If you want to apply for a Parenting Order from the Family Court, you usually have to have attended a Parenting Through Separation course in the last two years.