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The Courts in Northern Ireland place the welfare and needs of children first above all else, making child arrangements when parents can’t agree.

The process can be emotional and stressful.

Our compassionate and highly regarded Belfast-based family law solicitors are specialists in this area of law and here to help you.

Why Keenan Solicitors?

If you and your partner have divorced or separated, one of the biggest disagreements you are likely to have is when each party can see the children and who has custody of them.

At Keenan Solicitors we recognise that these can be incredibly stressful times. If you can’t come to an agreement with your partner, the Court process can be an unfamiliar and daunting experience.

The knock-on effect of not having your interests and the interests of your children best represented can be devastating.

Our Belfast-based family law solicitors combine empathy with expertise, taking the time to listen to your worries and concerns to offer advice tailored to your own unique circumstance and achieving the best possible result.

Both of our expert family law solicitors, Caroline McCammon and Andrew Mairs, are proud to sit on the prestigious Law Society of Northern Ireland’s Children Order Panel, recognising their expertise in this specialised area of law.

Call Keenan Solicitors on 028 90 49 3349 or tell us about it and we will call you at a time that suits you.

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Your Family Law Solicitors

Always approachable and highly regarded by thousands of satisfied clients, we will tirelessly work to achieve the best possible result for you.

How do I get custody of my child in Northern Ireland?

The legal starting point for all child arrangements between separated couples is that the care of the child should be shared amongst both parents unless this would be likely to adversely affect the child’s welfare.

Parents will often try an informal arrangement before contacting a solicitor. Unfortunately, many discover that these agreements can be prone to breaking down, with little to no protections if one party fails to keep their word.

Naturally, there may be a wide variety of reasons why an informal arrangement may be inappropriate or difficult to agree. Our experts can guide you at this early stage on your best options.

If an agreement can’t be reached, the next step will be to apply to the Court for the appropriate order. The type of order you seek will be dependent on your individual circumstances and it is vital that you speak to an expert to make sure that the correct steps are taken.

Childrens’ Orders in Northern Ireland

Sometimes parents can’t agree on what is best for their child. The breakup of a relationship with children involved can be physically and emotionally devastating and the reasons for why an agreement can’t be reached can be complex.

In Northern Ireland, the overriding principle is that the child’s welfare comes before everything else. We will always try to resolve matters amicably but sometimes seeking or defending a Court Order is necessary.

There are a number of Orders available to the Court, including:

  • Residence Order
    • This determines who the child lives with. The Court may decide that the child should only live with one parent, but only if it is in the child’s best interests. 
      The Court may also make a ‘shared’ residence order which grants residence to both parents and sets out how the time should be split between them.
  • Contact Order
    • This allows whoever is named on the order to have the right to see the child, or have the child stay with them.
      If the parents can’t agree on contact between the child and the parent who isn’t living with them, these orders will determine things such as the days, times and venue of any contact.
  • Specific Issue Order
    • If parents can’t agree over a specific issue regarding their child, the Court may step in to determine the outcome. Common scenarios where this may arise include changing schools, changing surnames and medical treatment.
  • Prohibited Steps Order
    • This stops a parent from carrying out an action which they would normally be allowed to do as someone with parental responsibility. 
      This may relate to the child’s education, name, travel, or preventing a person from having contact with the child. 
      There are restrictions on who can apply and what you can apply for, so it is important to seek legal guidance at the outset.
  • Parental Responsibility Order
    • This grants rights and responsibilities towards the child. 
      A mother automatically has Parental Responsibility, whilst a father does not if they aren’t named on the birth certificate.
      It is formal recognition of your responsibilities in bringing up the child and of your rights to be involved in any major decisions. These include schooling, religion, medical treatment, name change, or the decision to emigrate.

What will the Court consider when making an Order?

When considering arrangements for children, family court judges always refer to the ‘Welfare Checklist’.

The Welfare Checklist is found in Article 3(3) of The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and it includes these factors:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child (in light of their age and understanding);
  2. The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
  3. The likely effect of any change in the child’s circumstances;
  4. The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which the court considers relevant;
  5. Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
  6. How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person involved in the child’s care, is of meeting the child’s needs;
  7. The different types of Orders that the court can make in this type of case.

The judge will consider the child’s welfare in view of all the circumstances of the case and will balance these factors in reaching a decision.

Although the judge is required to consider them, they are not required to list them as specific factors in a written or oral judgment. They can also consider other factors at their discretion.

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