Since 1994 when the Children Order came in to force in Northern Ireland, the old terms of ‘child custody’ and ‘access’ have been replaced with what are known as Residence and Contact Orders. A Residence Order determines with whom a child should live and can take effect normally up until the age of 16. A Contact Order determines how much time a child will spend with their other parent and can include days and times, special holiday arrangements and other conditions. A Joint Residence Order determines that the child will live with both parents and can stipulate which days or times are to spend with which.
In general, it will be presumed that children should continue to have a relationship with both parents following a relationship breakdown however there are no set rules to determine the frequency and duration of contact. The test the court applies is what will be in the child’s best interests and this will be determined with reference to what is known as the ‘welfare checklist.’ Additionally, practical issues will come in to play such as travel arrangements, working hours, parents’ proximity to each other.
When separated parents disagree with each other about the arrangements for their children, there are a number of services available to help resolve those issues without the need to go to court, such as family therapy or family mediation services. If such matters cannot be resolved without engaging a family lawyer, then we will do everything we can to attempt to continue constructive discussions in an effort to resolve the matter in the best interests of the children and without the need to go to court. If such discussions do not result in the matter being resolved, we will talk you through the court process and assist you by representing you at court.
If you are being denied contact with your child entirely, it is important to take prompt action to ensure that any delay does not negatively impact on your application for contact, and to ensure that an investigation in to the child’s welfare can be undertaken. If you already have a court order in place which is being ignored, the court can take action against those who do not abide by the terms without good reason.
If you have a specific area of dispute that cannot be resolved such as choosing a child’s school, or what religion they should practise, an application can be made for what is known as a ‘Specific Issue Order’ but again all efforts should be made to try and resolve suchissues by agreement. The court can also grant what are knows as ‘Prohibited Steps Orders, stopping one party from doing something such as removing a child from their school or moving to a different country.
If you have any issues relating to your child following a relationship breakdown please do not hesitate to contact us on 028 91811538 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for specialist legal advice.