Divorcing when you have children

Deciding how to support and manage children is one of the most complex aspects of divorce. This blog provides practical advice to help you and your ex-spouse make arrangements regarding your child or children.

How to communicate with your child

Divorcing is likely to be a highly emotional time. One or both parents may feel angry, confused, betrayed, shocked, sad and more. These feelings are normal, but they can make focusing on finding practical solutions to build your child’s future difficult.

Creating a supportive environment for your child during this transition is crucial. To do this, encourage open communication so you can understand how they are feeling and help them adapt to changes.

It’s essential for both parents to separate their personal feelings about each other and the divorce from their interactions with their children. If you find this overwhelming or difficult, professional help is available from charities such as Relate or you could speak to a counsellor or mediator.

Children cope much better when conflict is reduced, so it’s vital to have discussions and make decisions regarding your child when they are not around to overhear or interrupt. Always communicate with each other directly, not via your child.

Resolution, the membership body for family law professionals who resolve issues constructively, has some useful advice on communicating with children here. If you are struggling to agree on important matters, seek help from a legal professional or mediator.

Will we need to go to court to decide arrangements for our children?

Certain aspects may lead to conflicts during divorce or separation, such as deciding where the children will reside, determining the amount of time they will spend with each parent, and working out how and where special occasions like birthdays and Christmas will be celebrated. Every family is unique, and finding a solution that works for all parties involved may require patience and compromise.

If parents are capable of having discussions, the courts will not intervene in matters related to their children until they have explored every possible solution to reach conclusions but have been unsuccessful in doing so. However, if the divorce is due to domestic abuse, the courts may intervene to protect the safety of the parent and child.

You may also need to go to court if:

  • You’re worried about your child’s safety or wellbeing when they are with the other parent
  • You feel vulnerable or controlled by your ex-partner
  • Your spouse refuses you access to your child
  • Your former partner is alienating you and they are purposefully sabotaging any opportunities you have of having a meaningful relationship with your child. Parental alienation can include making false allegations to persuade authorities you are not fit to be a parent or manipulating the child into not wishing to spend time with you

In such cases, we advise you to speak to a legal professional as they may deem it necessary to apply for a court order known as a ‘child arrangements order.’

Additionally, a ‘specific issue order’ can stipulate how the child is raised. This can include which school they will attend or whether they will be brought up to follow a specific religion. A ‘prohibited steps order’ can be applied for if you need to stop the other parent from making any decisions about the child’s upbringing without informing you or discussing matters with you.

Court intervention is sometimes necessary but should be considered a last resort if you and your former spouse are on speaking terms. Fees and legal representation can be very costly, and the process will likely be stressful and time-consuming for all parties.

Who is responsible for the costs of looking after children?

Responsibility for costs associated with the child lies with both parents, with the parent no longer residing with the family expected to make maintenance payments until the child is 16 (or 20 if still in full-time education).

If the parents cannot agree on a payment amount, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will determine it. The CMS can also act if the parent responsible for these payments doesn’t pay.

The amount of maintenance required can depend on several factors, such as the parent’s income, the number of nights the child spends with them, and any other responsibilities the parent has. A useful calculator to work out payments can be found here

Can we make the arrangements for our children legally binding?

Arrangements for your children can be kept informal and flexible, and you are under no obligation to formalise them. However, if parents disagree, are not amicable or are unable to communicate, a court can make child arrangements legally binding through a ‘consent order.’

The consent order can cover all aspects of childcare, such as where the child will live, how much time they spend with each parent, and when and where this contact takes place. It can form part of an overall consent order relating to other aspects of divorce, such as finances, property and maintenance payments.


We’re an award-winning law firm advising individuals and families on all aspects of divorce and child arrangements. We pride ourselves on our children-first, non-confrontational approach to divorce. Contact us on 0116 340 0094 or email us hello@agrlaw.co.uk