Mediation is when an independent and impartial person discusses a problem with you and your ex-partner to try to find a solution.
You must meet with a mediator before you can go to court – this doesn’t apply in some cases, eg if there’s been domestic abuse.
You may be able to get legal aid for mediation.
If you need to go to court
You might need to go to court if mediation doesn’t work or the mediator decides it’s not appropriate.
You’ll need to fill in a ‘C100 form’ to show you’ve considered mediation. Your mediator or legal adviser may be able to help you with the form.
You can apply for a single court order, or a number of them, depending on what you’ve been unable to agree on.
Arrangements for your child
A ‘child arrangements order’ decides:
- where your child lives
- when your child spends time with each parent
- when and what other types of contact, like phone calls, take place
‘Child arrangements orders’ replace ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’. Parents with these orders don’t need to re-apply.
Your child’s upbringing
A ‘specific issue order’ is used to look at a specific question about how the child is being brought up, eg:
- what school they go to
- if they should have a religious education
You can also apply for a ‘prohibited steps order’ to stop the other parent from making a decision about the child’s upbringing.
Who can apply
The child’s mother, father or anyone with parental responsibility can apply for a court order.
Other people, like grandparents, can apply for these court orders, but they’ll need to get permission from the courts first.
Follow these steps to apply for a court order.
- Read the guidance on making an application (PDF, 348KB).
- Fill in the C100 court form.
- Send it to your nearest court that deals with cases involving children.
It costs £215 to apply for a court order.
You may be able to get help with court fees if you’re on benefits or a low income.
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 can’t 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 can’t 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, eg by going to a meeting with a mediator.
You may have to go on a course if your case is about contact issues. The course is called a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’, and could help you find a way to make contact arrangements work.
You usually have to go to 2 meetings. Your ex-partner won’t be at the same meetings as you.
If you reach an agreement at any stage, the judge or magistrate can stop the process.
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.
*Legal information given above is not legal advice. Please contact a solicitor to get legal advice.