The welfare of the children is the court’s paramount concern and in the absence of any other factors, it best serves a child’s welfare to have a good relationship with both of its parents.
Mediation must be attempted unless assessed as inappropriate or there is a history of violence between the parents, and is often the shortest route.
Funding through Legal Aid is available to those of limited means if there is a history of violence (very restricted in 2013) or automatically for “public law” cases for parents whose children are being removed by the local authority social services (public law matters are not dealt with in any further detail here).
Applications can be made for orders regarding:
specific issues (eg schooling, moving, religious observance)
action to be prevented (eg not removing a child from the care of that parent).
Adults who are not parents may make applications for such orders but will probably have to seek formal permission from the court to do so.
In general the starting point for the court will be to promote the child’s opportunity to have a good relationship with both parents.
Each dispute is different and will be resolved individually and any sensible practical solution should be suggested to the court (or mediator), there are no rules governing the amount of contact a parent should have, just principles.
The child has a right to a good relationship with its parents, adults have a right to family life and all have a right to a fair trial (not limited to criminal matters). For these rights to co-exist, openness and truthfulness is essential, co-operation is ideal and some compromise may be needed.
The practicalities of travel, school, work and expense will all be relevant. Wider families may be included if helpful in promoting that opportunity, and excluded if not.
The court will not have time to listen to the whole family and circle of friends, which exercise can be hugely divisive, but will seek to confine evidence and hearings to the parents only.