Hello, thank you for your question. My name is***** am a barrister and will assist you with this issue today.
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Coming to an informal agreement is always best for the child but I understand that is not always possible.
If you think you might still be able to discuss agreements you could consider a parenting plan: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/parenting-plan/https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/parenting-plan/. These aren't legally binding however, just a useful tool to help you manage an otherwise informal agreement.
A mediator can sometimes help too and they can help you draw up agreements between you, again these wouldn't normally be legally binding however. You can explore this here: https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/find-local-mediator.
If you feel that you've reached the stage where court is necessary then you could consider applying to the court for an order called a Child Arrangements Order (CAO).
Specifically within a CAO it often dictates who the child is to live with. You can apply for the child to live with you or for a joint live with order which is what people sometimes refer to as "joint custody".
You don’t have to apply for a live with order, you can just apply to spend time with the child which is what people sometimes refer to as “contact”.
You can instruct a solicitor to apply for this for you or you can apply yourself.
You can find a solicitor who specialises in family law here: https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk
If you wanted to apply yourself then you can find the form here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/form-c100-application-under-the-children-act-1989-for-a-child-arrangements-prohibited-steps-specific-issue-section-8-order-or-to-vary-or-discharge
You will have to pay an issue fee (£215) to the court but if you are on a limited income then sometimes you can apply for a remission: https://www.gov.uk/get-help-with-court-fees.
Before you issue an application, you are expected to try to negotiate and attend a mediation assessment session (MIAM). You can find information about this here: https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/family-mediation/assessment-meeting-miam/. There are exceptions in certain circumstances e.g. urgency.
If you do issue an application usually what happens is when the case is first listed, Cafcass inform the court about any safeguarding issues. Often the court needs more information and order a s.7 report. If appropriate this includes finding out the “wishes and feelings” of the child. You can find out more about s.7 reports here: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/section-7-report/
The case only progresses to a contested hearing with a judicial decision if an agreement cannot be reached between yourselves.
In general the court will always look to encourage a relationship between the child and both parents if it is safe. The overriding factor in any decision is always the welfare of the child.
That's a general overview but to answer some of your specific questions:
- You can have your daughter for as long as you like. Some parents ask to have their child every other weekend and half the school holidays in situations like yours where there is some distance between the parents. There's nothing stopping you asking for more though.
- The mother doesn't have to be with you unless there is a safeguarding concern (e.g you had a criminal history/ drug misuse issue etc)
- Coronavirus doesn't stop contact, it is allowed under the guidelines but some parents prefer not to have their child moving about so much so that is a factor to consider.
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