Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt hit the headlines again last week, when Jolie reportedly sought to disqualify a judge from their divorce case, following his alleged decision to refuse to allow their children to testify with regards to their “custody fate”. In her court filing, Jolie cited a California courts code which states that if a child over 14 years old wants to testify, they should be allowed to do so.
According to the actor, the judge had also “failed to adequately consider” the part of the California courts code which states that it is detrimental to the best interests of the child if custody is given to someone with a history of perpetrating domestic violence.
What does the law in England and Wales say about child arrangements?
Of course, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s divorce and subsequent custody arrangements are being dealt with in California and divorce law in the USA is very different to divorce law in England and Wales.
The main piece of legislation which deals with child arrangements following divorce in England and Wales is the Children Act 1989. This sets out the principles and rules that judges must follow if they are asked to decide child arrangements.
Many parents are able to come to an agreement between themselves or with help from a mediator. The principles and rules set out in the Children Act 1989 can help parents to reach an agreement without going to court.
The welfare checklist contained in the Act ensures that the child’s welfare is taken into account as the paramount consideration and that a child’s own wishes may be taken into account, depending on how old they are and upon their understanding of the situation.
The Children and Families Act 2014 also recognises that it is almost always in the best interests of the children to have both parents in their lives (unless there is a very good reason to the contrary).
Can claims of domestic violence compromise your fight for child contact?
What this means is that in England and Wales, when asked to decide child arrangements after domestic violence has occurred, the courts will consider the impact of the domestic violence on the overall wellbeing of the child and what arrangements should be put in place to prevent a child witnessing or being exposed to further incidents. In some circumstances, the court might consider supervised contact to be appropriate and in extreme cases might conclude that a child should have no direct contact with a parent.
The child’s wishes can be taken into account, depending on their age and level of understanding, but this will only form one part of the balancing exercise a judge will undertake when deciding what is in the best interests of the child.
If you would like advice about child arrangements, get in touch to book your free consultation with one of our specialist family lawyers today.
Neil Graham, a Partner at Grayfords, comments as follows: “No child should grow up having to witness violence in their own home, the long term effects of which can be deeply damaging. Most parents are able to agree between them the arrangements that are in their children’s best interests. However, where the intervention of the court is sought the Children Act and the Children and Families Act require the court to consider what arrangements are best for a child including how the risk of any harm or domestic violence should be minimised as part of those arrangements.”