The most important principle is that your children should grow up having a relationship with both their parents whether those parents live together or apart. This need to maintain a relationship with both parents will need to be at the forefront of all your decision making.
When a relationship breaks down you will need to consider future child arrangements such as where your child will live, how much time they will spend with each of their parents and how your child will be supported financially.
It is important to try and agree on future plans as early as possible to ensure your child’s routine is not suddenly disrupted. Time spent with each parent should enable your child to have a positive and healthy family life, thereby minimising any potential emotional damage.
Child arrangements are often based on an informal agreement between parents, although it can be useful to write down what you have agreed to avoid any misunderstandings in the future. If your child is at an age where they understand the situation it can be beneficial to involve them in discussions, but any decisions must be made by the parents.
It is important that you are consistent in the messages that you give to your children. We recommend that you discuss in advance with the other parent what is going to be said to the children, the message must be age appropriate and remain the same, for example;
“you are loved by both your parents and whether we are living together or apart we will both continue to be your parents and we will continue to love you unreservedly.”
What steps can you take?
If at all possible, talk to your partner about the arrangements. The best arrangements for your children will be the ones that you agree yourselves.
If you are unable to agree on arrangements through direct discussion, it may be useful to attend mediation where a neutral third party can help you reach an agreement. Mediation is voluntary however, if you think Court proceedings may be necessary, it is worth attending mediation as this is a pre-requisite to any court proceedings. You will need to show the Court that you attempted mediation before starting court proceedings. This will involve attending an introductory meeting known as a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM). There are some exemptions when mediation is not suitable or not required and these can be discussed with you if necessary.
You may also instruct a solicitor to support you in the process and negotiate on your behalf with the other parent and their legal representative to try to reach an agreement.
Parents who are unable to reach an agreement will need to apply to the Court to resolve matters by way of a Child Arrangements Order. The court will be assisted by CAFCASS which is the courts advisory service, they will be involved prior to the first court hearing and will make contact with both parents and prepare a safeguarding letter for the Judge in which they will make recommendations as to the way forward. The court will make a final order after consideration of all the evidence and this will be binding on the parties. Court hearings have continued to take place during the pandemic, primarily via video conferencing software.
Child Arrangements Orders
The Court will put your child’s welfare at the forefront of their decision making and will consider the Welfare Checklist under Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 which includes:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child
- their physical, emotional and/or educational needs
- their age, sex, background and any characteristics the court believes relevant
- any harm which they have or are at risk of suffering
- how capable each of their parents (and any other person the court believes the question to be relevant) is of meeting their needs
- the range of powers available in the proceedings
The Court will look at how much time each parent should spend with the children. Types of contact will vary for every family. This can be anything from equal time spent in each household through to direct face-to-face contact for an hour, a day or a week-end or longer depending on the circumstances. The court will also look at indirect contact via letters, emails and telephone or video calls.
It may also be important to look at whether contact needs to be different in term time to the arrangements for school holidays. There may be additional special days that also need to be accounted for, for example mother’s day and father’s day. Christmas, Easter or other occasions may also require special consideration.
The time you spend with your child(ren) will usually take place in your own home, however, the court can also consider other venues if the circumstances require, such as community based contact or in a relative’s home, in a public space or in a contact centre. As circumstances change, and as the child(ren) grow older the arrangements for contact will change.
It is important to remember that the arrangements need to be flexible to meet the child’s needs and will develop over time.
Child Arrangements and Covid-19
If you have a Child Arrangements Order from a Court you may make temporary changes if you believe them necessary in the circumstances, and provided they are safe and in line with Government guidance. It is preferable to see if you can agree on changing the child arrangements in place with the other parent or responsible adult before resorting to Court intervention. Try to always keep a record of the changes you have agreed.
If a parent is self-isolating, you could suggest that any lost time is made up once the self-isolation comes to an end. If you cannot see your child because of Covid-19 it can be helpful to try alternative methods of contact such indirect contact via telephone calls, video calls or emails.
How can Tozers help?
For further help or information about anything mentioned in this article, or to talk to one of our dedicated Family team, visit their hub page.