Our aim is to help separating couples resolve any problems in relation to their children amicably, avoiding the Court system if possible, but making effective use of it where necessary.

Children will cope far better with divorce and/or separation if they know their parents have reached an agreement about their future.  If you are separating from your partner and have children together, it is important to consider using mediation to resolve any problems that arise.  However, if court proceedings are necessary, then our experienced family lawyers will strive to help you achieve the best possible outcome.

We can advise on a variety of techniques to resolve problems more quickly, amicably and at both a lower financial and emotional cost.  If you wish to deal with matters yourself, but just need some friendly, experienced legal advice from time to time, we are happy to help you in that way.

The Legal Basics

A married mother and father automatically acquire legal rights and responsibilities in relation to their child.  This is called Parental Responsibility.  When a party has this, they can apply to the court for a Contact Order or a Residence Order.

If the parents are not married but their child was born after 1st December 2003 and the father’s name is on the Birth Certificate, then both parents have Parental Responsibility.

If the child was born before that date, or the father’s name is not on the Birth Certificate, the father can acquire Parental Responsibility by entering into an agreement with the mother or applying to the court for an Order.

Our skills and experience

Advising on the best interests of, and/or representing, children is a specialist area and our experienced Family Law Team includes members of:

  • Resolution (including Accredited Specialist in Complex Financial Remedies, Private Children Law and Child Abduction)
  • Law Society’s Children Law Scheme (Accredited Specialist)
  • Association of Lawyers for Children

Accordingly, we have been formally accredited by the Law Society and other specialist professional bodies as having the skills and experience necessary to represent all parties in cases concerning children.

 Such cases include the following:

  • Contact, by parents and other family members such as grandparents and step parents
  • Residence
  • Shared Care
  • Financial provision for children (including those of unmarried couples)
  • Parental Responsibility
  • Prohibited Steps Order
  • Specific Issues Order
  • Emergency Procedures
  • Child abduction
  • Wardship
  • Child Care Investigation
  • Child Care proceedings
  • Special Guardianship Order
  • Adoption

New family court guidance to protect children during custody disputes

New family court guidance to protect children from violent parents during custody disputes is “lifesaving,” domestic violence campaigners say. The changes, which end a presumption that both parents should be granted access, came into effect on 1st October 2017.

The MoJ said it was determined to improve the treatment of abuse victims in the justice system. Women’s Aid, which has campaigned for the changes for over a year, says 20 children have been killed by a parent who was also a known perpetrator of domestic abuse.


Child Care Proceedings

The law relating to children is extremely complex and designed to protect young people.

Where Local Authorities consider their own involvement to be necessary, they prefer to work with parents in relation to the care of their children; however, they have a duty to act and intervene if they believe that the health, welfare or safety of a child is at risk.

If court proceedings are being commenced for your children to be taken into care, or if they are already in care, then it is essential that you obtain specialist advice immediately.

What we will do

We may contact the Local Authority to arrange a meeting where we will try to avoid legal action being commenced.

If legal action has already started, we will advise and guide you at every stage of the process and do all that is possible to achieve the best outcome.

We will advise you on:

  • Your visiting rights if the children are in care
  • Family members caring for children as an alternative to foster parents
  • The best way forward for you and your child

Expert help

Our experience in this field will provide you with the expertise that you will need to resolve this very distressing situation. We will also make every effort to ensure that you are able to maintain a relationship with your children.

For care proceedings you are automatically entitled to public funding (“Legal Aid”) if you are a parent.

Warring parents risk losing children

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is to carry out a “groundbreaking” trial whereby divorcing parents could be denied contact with their children if they try to turn them against their former partner.  Please click here for more information.

Child Abduction

Maria James is a Resolution Accredited Specialist in child abduction matters and the firm is a member of the ICACU panel – the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit – which is run by the Official Solicitor’s office and deals with the cases of children that are brought into England & Wales by one parent without the consent of the other parent.

Acting on behalf of parents

The ICACU refers applications to panel members on behalf of parents from around the world whose children have either been brought to England & Wales without consent, or retained here beyond an agreed period. These applications take place at the High Court and are funded by Legal Aid.

For Applicants (i.e. the left behind parent) the Legal Aid is available on a non means non merits basis – i.e. it is automatic regardless of their own financial circumstances. For the Respondents (i.e. the parent who has brought the child into the country) it is available but on a means tested basis.


Applications can be made by parents only in countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention which is an international agreement on child abduction.  Many countries around the world are signatories, as well as all EU countries.

Applicants in those countries that are not Hague Convention countries, and are non EU, can avail themselves of a very similar procedure called wardship to seek the return of their children.  Legal Aid is also available in those cases but it is means tested in for both Applicants and Respondents.

If you are a Respondent

While we will receive instructions directly from ICACU for Applicants in Hague Convention cases, should you wish to receive advice and/or make an application in a Wardship case, or if you are a Respondent and have been served with papers in either Hague Convention or Wardship proceedings, we will be equally happy to use our expertise in this area to assist you in every way possible.

For further advice please contact us on 01689 822554,
or email us at family@thomasdunton.co.uk


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