Children - Residence, Contact and Parental Responsibility

When couples separate the priority should be the welfare of the children and quite often there are issues that need to be addressed, such as where the children should live (Residence) and how much time they will spend with each parent (Contact).

Residence Order

A Residence Order (previously known as a Custody Order ) is used to decide where and with which parent a child will live on a permanent basis. A child can spend time living with both parents (a shared Residence Order) if this is practicable and in the child’s best interest.

If you are the child’s primary carer i.e. the Residence Order is in your favour, then you can decide the day-to-day issues of the child's life.  However, you cannot change their name or take them out of the country for more than one month without the permission of everyone with parental responsibility.

Unless the Court directs otherwise, a Residence Order will normally last until the child reaches the age of 16.

There are many things to consider when seeking a Residence Order so it is important that you obtain legal advice before applying to the Court.  Talk to one of our experienced family solicitors who will be happy to discuss your options with you.


If you have separated from your partner, it is best for everyone, especially the children, if you can come to an amicable arrangement between you about their future care.  This can include Residence and Contact arrangements for the children to visit or stay with a person they don’t live with, previously known as ‘access’ arrangements.

However, making arrangements for children is a very emotional process and you may not be able to discuss matters objectively and constructively.   Don’t worry, we can help. Our experienced family law team can negotiate on your behalf and find a solution that puts the children’s needs first, thereby reducing the stress, costs and delay of court proceedings.

Parental Responsibility

A person with parental responsibility has a legal status in a child’s life and has the power to make decisions about the child’s life.

When a child is born to married parents, both parents automatically have parental responsibility for the child. When a child is born to unmarried parents, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility for the child. For children born after 1st December 2003, the unmarried father will have parental responsibility if he is registered on the child’s birth certificate.

However, an unmarried father does not automatically have parental responsibility but he can obtain parental responsibility either by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or by obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order through the Court.

A Parental Responsibility Agreement recognises the rights of both parents who have parental responsibility allowing them to make decisions about:

  • The child’s religion;
  • The child’s education;
  • The child’s name;
  • The child’s medical treatment (or refusal thereof);
  • Whether the child can leave England and Wales on holiday.

The giving of Parental Responsibility to an unmarried father does not, however, mean that he has the right to interfere in the day to day upbringing of children who live with their mother.

To find out more talk to a member of our Family Law team.

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