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Applying to Court

Family Mediation

Before you begin proceedings you should consider Mediation. In mediation, an impartial, trained mediator, not connected with your case, helps you and your partner to resolve your disputes.

Mediation is not about getting back together. It is a chance for couples who are splitting to meet with someone who has been properly trained. This will help you to make arrangements for the future to work out plans for any number of things, including your children, your money, or your home.

You should attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before you apply to court (there are exemptions to this rule, and details are included on our detailed guide on Mediation).

You can find your nearest family mediation service by visiting the government´s website DirectGov ( and search using the words ´family mediation´. You will find a database of accredited family mediation services on the website.

The Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting does not take long and will provide you with an assessment of the situation and whether mediation could solve your problems. Depending on your personal circumstances you may need to pay for the meeting. It´s important to bear in mind that successful mediation can reduce costs for you in the long-term.

Public funding may be available from the Civil Legal Advice (CLA) service. The CLA telephone number is 0845 345 4 345 and you can access their website here.

You may also want to refer to our Mediation guide:


Parenting Plans: Putting children first

´Parenting Plans: Putting children first - A guide for separating parents´ is a free booklet for separating parents designed to help parents reach agreement about contact and other arrangements for their children following parental separation or divorce. You can download a copy below:

Parenting Plan (pdf file)

You can get a copy of a Welsh version from any CAFCASS CYMRU office or any Welsh court.

´Parenting Plans´ explore a range of issues you may need to consider in making contact and other arrangements for your children, and includes practical examples of how other parents in a variety of family structures and circumstances have resolved problems. It also provides a list of organisations that can provide further advice and help.

The court makes most decisions about children using a law, called the Children Act 1989. If you want the court to make a decision about a child you need to apply to the court for an ´order´. An order will be made when the judge makes a decision.

How the Court can help you

Some of the orders you may wish to apply for are described below. These are just some of the decisions a court can make under the Children Act 1989.

Type of Order

A new order which replaced contact and residence orders on 22nd April 2014. Child Arrangements Orders set our with whom a child should live, spend time with or otherwise have contact.

You can choose to share living arrangements with your ex-partner. Research shows that where both parents are fully involved in their children's lives, children fare better emotionally, psychologically and in terms of their development. Rather than battling your ex-partner, consider shared care withing a child arrangements order. Kids need a mum and a dad.

These orders give instructions about a specific issue that has arisen about an action normally undertaken by a parent. For example, if you and your ex-partner cannot agree where your child should go to school.

These orders mean a person must have the court´s permission before undertaking actions specified in the order, that would normally be undertaken by a parent. For example, to require a parent to seek the court´s permission before taking the child to a foreign country.

Parental Responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority, which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. For example, if you are father of a child but you were not married to the child´s mother, nor named on the birth certificate when the child´s birth was registered, but you wish to be recognised legally as the child´s father, then you may apply for a Parental Responsibility Order.

The Special Guardian of a child can take most decisions about the child until the child is 18. Unlike adoption the child will retain their ties to their birth family.

If you are seeking enforcement of a historic contact order, or a child arrangements order.

What a court might decide

A court will only make an order if it thinks that would be best for the child. Sometimes a court may decide that it would be best not to make any order.

A court might:

If the court makes an order it will be based on what the court believes is best for your child. This might mean that you, or the other person will not get exactly what you have asked for.

Once a case has started a court may make other decisions. These include:

Do I need permission to apply to the court?

Visit our guide to find out:

Do I need permission to apply to the court?

Specialist Guides - Risk Situations

We provide various guides relating to crisis situations (buttons below in blue are active; buttons below in white will be available soon):

Domestic Violence Domestic Abduction (UK) Emergency Protection Orders Internal Relocation International Child Abduction Leave to Remove Parental Alienation Paternity Testing Psychological Assessments

Leave to Remove cases concern applications to the court by a parent who seeks the court´s permission to emigrate with the children (required where other parents and holders of parental responsibility refuse their consent).

What if I've already applied for contact or residence?

If you already have an application before the court for contact or residence, your application will be treated as being for a Child Arrangements Order, albeit the court will assume you want the child to live (reside) with you, or spend time with you (contact) will depend on whether you applied for residence or contact.

How are existing orders treated?

If you have a residence or contact order, these will be treated as child arrangements orders, albeit parents will still be classified as the person with whom the child lives, spends time with or otherwise has contact.

You can also refer to our guides on:

Residence Orders Contact Orders

Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's printer for Scotland.