Your Guide to Separating with Children

Going through a separation is difficult, particularly when there are children involved.  There are arrangements that need to be made, and there are legal obligations too, but the most important thing is to make sure your child is coping.

This guide will help you with the legalities, but we also cover how you can help your children manage the separation.  You might also like to read our guide to child maintenance.

Living arrangements

One of the most important decisions you need to make is where the child will live (and with whom), and how often they will see each parent.

This decision is often tied up with child maintenance payments, but these can be arranged separately.

Depending on the circumstances of your separation, you may wish to decide this amicably between yourselves, but if you wish to have a legally binding agreement, it is probably best to talk to a solicitor.

Our expert solicitors are here to guide you through the process and take some of the stress out of the situation.

Child Arrangement Order

If there are disagreements over who will live with your children or who will see them more, you may be able to resolve these through a mediator.

If mediation doesn’t work then it may have to go through the courts where a Child Arrangement Order will be made.

This decides who will live with the child, and when each parent gets to see them. They can be granted to more than one person, e.g. it may be decided that time will be split equally between you both.

Other legalities

Specific Issue Order (SIO)

It may be possible to get a Specific Issue Order from the court if you disagree over important decisions in your child’s upbringing, such as:

  • Education (e.g. the school they will attend)
  • Religion (e.g. what faith, if any, they will follow)
  • Health (e.g. what medical treatment they should receive)

However, the court is unlikely to intervene on every day matters in bringing up a child (e.g. what you feed them) unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Name changes

If you wish to change your child’s surname you must have express permission from the other parent, and anyone else who may have parental responsibility.

If you change the surname without their permission they may be granted a Specific Issue Order to change it back again.

Prohibited Steps Order (PSO)

A PSO can be granted by the court to forbid someone with parental responsibility from taking certain actions with your child.

This may be that they wish to:

  • Take the child abroad
  • Remove the child from your care/from school
  • Allow the child contact with people you do not want them to see.
  • Make changes to the child’s surname

You do not both need to be present at the hearing if it is an emergency. A PSO may be granted temporarily until the other parent can attend, or indefinitely.

Taking your child abroad

It is worth bearing in mind that in order to take children abroad (either for a holiday or moving) you need express permission from all who hold parental responsibility, or you may be charged with child abduction.

Separation due to violence

If you have separated from your partner as a result of controlling behaviour or domestic violence and you are worried about the safety of yourself and your children, there are steps you can take.

It is possible to get a Prohibited Steps Order (see above) to prevent your partner taking certain actions with your children.

However, if you believe there is a genuine risk of harm then is it important to speak to the police and seek urgent legal advice.

Legal advice will not only help to protect you, it ensures you make the right decisions for both you and your children.

Helping your child cope

The breakdown of a parental relationship can be very hard on children, even if one of the separating parents is not a biological relation.

Children react in a variety of ways, not just because of age or personality, but also because each child is different.

It is important to look out for any signs of anxiety, sadness or anger. Children may also be left feeling bewildered or lonely, and they may hide their feelings from you.

Here are some ways you can help to make it easier for a child:

  • Take time to listen and talk to them.
  • Reassure them.
  • Keep an eye out for any changes in their behaviour.
  • Don’t give mixed signals – make it clear the break-up is for good.
  • Try to protect them from your problems by not involving them in arguments, but at the same time, don’t exclude them completely – they need to know what’s going on.
  • Remain the adult: keep your anger/hurt away from them. Don’t bad-mouth the other parent to your child or force them to take sides.
  • Keep some stability by creating a routine and sticking to it.
  • Accept support from others – not just for your benefit but for your children’s benefit too.
  • Allow them to keep in contact (when safe to do so) with both parents, as this will help reassure them. Accept that there are still two parents, despite any hurt/anger you may feel.

Available help

Help is available, and you don’t have to do it all on your own.

Child maintenance options

Working Families

Gingerbread (offer advice for separated parents)

Reunite (offer advice on child abduction)

Help for domestic violence

Womens Aid/National Domestic Violence Helpline

How can First4Lawyers help?

We know that separations can be a difficult time, especially when children are involved, and we will make the process as easy as possible for you.

If you need advice or help getting a court order in place, get in touch today. 

More of our divorce and family law services

Get in touch today to discuss your requirements 08005677866

It seems you are using an outdated browser.

This will impair your browsing experience around the web. Please visit one of the links below to update to a modern browser then re-open the site with the new browser.

Thank you


Can't find what you are looking for?

We are open as normal during the Coronavirus lockdown and are able to help with all your legal needs.

Call us free of charge

0800 567 7866

Request a Callback

Continue browsing