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Child custody

If your relationship ends, you need to try to resolve child custody arrangements yourselves before you can go to court.

Working out custody

You can apply for urgent help if you have a very good reason for needing it. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) explains what these reasons typically are, and what you’ll need to do — including other options if you cannot afford a lawyer.

Urgent help — MoJ

It’s best if you can agree directly with your partner who’ll take care of your children when you separate. If you cannot agree on custody, you have to follow a process to try and resolve it yourselves before it gets to court.

  1. 1

    Complete a parenting through separation course

    This free course helps parents focus on the needs of children. You have to do this first.

    Parenting through separation course — MoJ

  2. 2

    Mediation run by a family dispute resolution service provider

    If you cannot agree on custody after completing the course for parenting through separation, you’ll work with a mediator to help you decide together how to care for your children.

    Mediation to work out parenting disagreements: Family Dispute Resolution — MoJ

    There’s a cost for mediation, but some people qualify for funding.

    Qualifying for funding — MoJ

  3. 3

    Apply to the Family Court

    If you still cannot agree after completing the course and mediation, you can apply to the Family Court to make a custody order.

    Going to Family Court after mediation — MoJ

    A lawyer may represent you at any time during the process.

    Lawyers for parents and children — MoJ

    For more information call the family justice help line on 0800 224 733.

Help for kids

Information that’s written for kids to help them understand what’s going on when their parents separate.

Children’s guide to separation (PDF 2.2MB) — MoJ

Help for parents

For parents, the Ministry of Justice also has advice and resources for getting help for your children. These include:

  • counselling and support
  • helplines
  • the previously mentioned ‘Children’s guide to separation’
  • factsheets — about, for example, answering difficult questions and understanding what children are going through during the separation.

Getting help for your children — Ministry of Justice

Utility links and page information

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