Q: My former partner took our children away for the weekend and is now refusing to return them to my care. He is a really good dad and the children love spending time with him but they have always lived with me. I don’t know what to do.
A. Much depends on whether your former partner has Parental Responsibility for the children. If their births were registered after 1st December 2003 and both you and he were present at the registration and his name appears on the birth certificates he has Parental Responsibility. In such circumstances you must apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order and ask the Court to make an Order that the children live with you. In emergency cases where children are in danger an urgent hearing can be requested, though in the case of your children this would appear unlikely.
You may benefit from entering into family mediation with the father to try and resolve your differences. Since 22nd April 2014 it has been a requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) prior to making any Court application. If mediation fails and you make the application to the Court, the Court may decide that the children should be returned to your care and the status quo be maintained. Or they may make an Order that the children live with their father.
If the children are old enough to have their wishes and feelings heard, a Court Reporter may be asked to interview them and prepare a report for the Court. If, throughout the proceedings agreement cannot be reached, the Court will make a decision based on all the circumstances of the case and by applying the welfare checklist set out in the Children Act 1989.
All circumstances are different, however, and you should contact a good family lawyer to establish your position.