When a relationship or marriage breaks down, it's important to ensure that any parental responsibilities are being fulfilled and that the children do not suffer unnecessarily. Part of this is deciding where children should live with a Child Arrangement Agreement so that your child's living arrangements are fixed in a way that will cause minimal disruption to them physically or emotionally.
The terms 'child custody', 'access','residence' and 'contact' were replaced by the terms Child Arrangements to mark a change in the focus of the law, which now looks at what is best for the child in question, rather than the wishes of the parents. The older terminology has stuck and is still often used by our clients, however, Child Arrangements simply means where a child lives and the time they spend with a parent or other family member other than at their residence.
There are a number of ways that Child Arrangements can be decided upon and at Forbes Solicitors we will assist you and your former spouse or partner to decide on the most suitable arrangement for your child or children, through mediation and legal advice. As the emphasis is on what is best for the child, it is generally accepted that the child's parents know what is best for them. Therefore, the Courts only become involved if the parents cannot agree on arrangements and apply to the Court for help or if there are child welfare concerns.
This order is a court ruling on where a child will live and who they will spend time with. An order can be granted to more than one person and can be made jointly to an unmarried couple. It lasts until the child is 16 unless the circumstances of the case are exceptional and the court has ordered that it should continue for longer.
A CAO (determining where a child lives) also prevents anyone changing a child's surname without the agreement of everyone with parental responsibility or an order of the court except in Scotland, where a residence order does not prevent a change in surname. It also places certain restrictions on taking children out of the UK.
Child Arrangements Orders are popular applications and the terms of the order can be varied to individual circumstances. They provide for definition of different options. One example is providing for a child to live with both parents and simply puts in place how that time will be divided - whether equally or unequally. As the Order requires the child to live with both parents at different times, it reinforces the idea that both parents will continue to have a significant role in their child's life. Also, because it's an agreement that both parents come to themselves with the help of a mediator, it gives them a sense of ownership over the plans, rather than simply being dictated to.
An alternative is a more 'traditional' arrangement whereby the child stays with the parent they do not usually live with on alternate weekends and for half of the school holidays - although the exact pattern of Contact how long they spend time with the non resident parent can also be dictated by geography and other issues. At Forbes, our team of Children's Law Solicitors can assist you with a referral to mediation which is a mandatory requirement before any proceedings can be issued before the court and in addition assist with any arrangements or agreements that may be reached.
Some situations, however, can make negotiations difficult or impossible - for instance, should one parent want to relocate to a different part of the UK or even abroad. If mediation does not work, we can also represent you in Court, giving you expert, sensitive legal advice to get the best outcome for your family.
The decision to go to court to resolve differences with your ex partner should not be taken lightly. Many parents report negative experiences of the processes due to the adversarial atmosphere. All this can make co-operation with your ex partner a lot harder in the long term.
But using the courts has to be a consideration if you and your ex partner are unable to reach agreement over important issues such as parental responsibility and child arrangements.
When parents are separating, divorcing or applying for civil partnership dissolution and can't agree on arrangements for their children, they can turn to the courts for help - in England and Wales, there are specialist family courts. In Scotland, the civil courts handle family matters. The family courts can issue a Child Arrangement order that will determine where the child will live and the time spent with the other parent.
The child's welfare is the court's paramount consideration when looking at questions of child arrangement. The court has a duty to consider certain welfare issues such as:
Research suggests that the children who adjust best to family separation are those that are able to maintain a relationship with both parents.
There is actually no parental right of contact with children. Contact is the right of a child, not the parent. If parents are unable to agree arrangements, the family courts can determine. All decisions are based on the welfare of the child. There is a presumption in law that a child will have a relationship with both parents.
There is no one option that can be described as being the best and each situation will be different depending on the individuals involved. What's important is that the arrangements you agree are in the child's best interests rather than the parents. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that you are making plans for your child's future if you are in a state of emotional turmoil.
Depending on the parents' relationship contact options can be relaxed and agreed through ongoing discussion. Others will be far more formal and specific in terms of times and dates. Children, especially younger ones, often respond to routine. Try to get a balance between being inflexible and being unpredictable.
You may agree that your child lives mostly with you.
There could be a shared arrangement where a child lives with both parents. Arrangements around time spent with each parent and patterns of contact vary greatly.
An arrangement could be where a child lives mostly with one parent but sometimes stays with the other may work. This could be one night a week, one weekend in two or simply a few days in every school holiday.
If one parent does not have suitable accommodation or there is some other reason why an overnight stay may not be practical a visit offers an alternative.
Supervised time may be decided by a court where there are particular problems, for example, when there are high levels of conflict. This usually takes place at a supervised contact centre.
Where no direct contact is permitted it is important to use other methods of keeping in touch with your children. This might be through letters, postcards, gifts, telephone calls or emails.
Child Arrangement Orders are orders of the court and failure to comply with them can be a contempt of court. This can lead to serious consequences.
Often disputes arise within families regarding where children should live, for example upon parents separating, or whether the children should have contact with the parent that they don't live with.
Often cases can be resolved without the need for Court Proceedings and at Forbes Solicitors we will make every effort to do so. We are always mindful of the fact that cases involving children are particularly sensitive.
At Forbes Solicitors we can help any family member whether you are a parent, grandparent or other family member or friend. Our Family, Divorce and Children Law Solicitors are here to help you in any way that we can. Whether you simply require some straightforward legal advice, a letter sending or, if necessary, Court Proceedings can be issued.
If you are going through a separation or divorce, and require help or advice from a team of expert Children's Law solicitors, contact Forbes on freephone 0800 689 1058. You can also contact our Solicitors online or call our offices in Blackburn, Chorley or Preston. However you contact us, we will work hard to ensure the best outcome for your family.
Get in touch to see how our experts could help you.