When a partnership breaks down and there are children involved, everything can get complicated.

When both partners want the children to live with them it can be an emotional minefield.  Just because you don’t want to be together any longer doesn’t mean that you don’t love your kids.  Even with shared care, life is going to be very different.

There is still an expectation in many families that the children will stay with their mother, but that’s no longer a default position.  As more families have both parents working, the old arrangement where the father worked and supported the non-working wife and children is rarer.  Many women have successful careers and it’s not unusual for the woman to be the higher wage-earner in the family.

If you and your partner can’t agree, there are a number of options you can take.

The first action should always be to try mediation.  An unbiased and expert third person will discuss your particular set of circumstances with you – and sometimes, if appropriate you can include the children in the process.

If you still don’t agree then you may decide to take the case to court.

What do the children want?

If you ask younger children which parent they wish to live with it’s likely that they won’t want to choose.  They just want Mum and Dad to be together.

Older children may have clearer opinions, but they may be based on all kinds of influences, from who nags them the most to who is the most ‘fun’ or who they think is likely to let them get away with the most!

This doesn’t mean that the wishes and feelings of the children won’t be taken into account.  Typically as part of a court proceeding the children would be spoken to by a CAFCASS officer who is there to look at what is best for the child.  The questions they will be asked will depend on the age of the child, so the meeting is appropriate to the child.  A report prepared following the meeting with the child and/or significant adults will form part of the case and help the judge to decide what is in the child’s best interests.

There are no ‘winners’

Unless there are safeguarding issues, most family courts prefer that the parents have some sort of shared care arrangement.  Clearly this has to work for the children, for instance, if one parent moves away to a location that makes it difficult or impossible for them to get to their schools, that will be a factor to take into account.

Whom the child lives with for the majority of the time will be decided on all the factors that impact on their lives and every effort made to reduce disruption in their lives.

Clearly older children will have their own opinions and, if the court says a 15-year-old should live with Mum, but he decides to move out and live with his dad, it’s going to be hard to enforce the court’s decision.

Ideally, there should never be a win-lose situation – just a solution that means that everyone gets at least some of what they want, but most importantly what is best for the children.