Child Arrangements and child related issues for Divorce or Separation

Child Arrangements and child related issues for Divorce or Separation

Splitting from your partner will inevitably result in distress among family members and you, as parents, due to the need to make crucial decisions regarding the care of your children. 

Unfortunately, when parents separate, children are the ones who suffer the most, since they may go through bewilderment and emotional anguish.

To help the kids feel as safe as possible under the circumstances, it’s crucial to explain the separation to them as early as possible, along with who will be taking care of them and where they will live. 

At Gillbanks Family Law Ipswich, the welfare of children is always a top priority. We advise parents to talk to a lawyer before making a decision so that the right arrangement can be made for the children during what is likely to be a very hard time for the whole family. 

Making arrangements for your children

According to the Children Act of 1989, the Family court has to treat the child’s welfare as its paramount consideration. This means that after considering all relevant facts, relationships, claims, wishes of parents and children, the risks, and the circumstances of the case are taken into account the action to follow will be that which is most in the interests of the child’s welfare. The court will always therefore put the best interests of the child above those of the parents.

In most cases, however, the arrangements that are likely to work best are those that are agreed by the parents. Parents do not stop being parents upon separation and or divorce. Most parents have been able to make decisions in the best interests of their children during their relationship and therefore should try to do so on separation. Often it is the communication between parents that becomes strained and difficult on separation, but help can be given with this and the courts prefer it when divorcing parents can come to an amicable agreement about the care of their children. 

If you reach an agreement about where the child will live (formerly child custody and residence) and when and how the child or children should spend time with the other parent and or other family members (formerly access and contact), no order or formal paperwork is required. The courts believe that an informal and amicable agreement over the arrangements for the children has a greater chance of succeeding than a less flexible agreement regarding child arrangements. It is, however, a good idea to put the agreement in writing so that you are both clear on what has been agreed and why. What is best for the children and how it all works might change over time and having a record of what was agreed and why can help move you forward with a new arrangement if needed.

You can prepare a parenting plan if you want to keep a written record or formalise the arrangement.

If you wish for a clear record of what has been agreed and why, then you can hire a family lawyer in Ipswich to help you create a parenting plan, separation agreement or correspondence setting out the agreement. In some cases, you may be able to obtain an order by consent too.

A separation agreement can clearly set out what you have agreed and why it can include

  • Who the children will live with
  • How much time they will spend with each other
  • What has been agreed in relation to financial assistance and or child maintenance.
  • Other issues relating to your separation.

Parenting plan – will set out what you have agreed and what issues you might still need to work on or seek assistance from the court on.

A consent order once approved by the court, is a legally enforceable order that verifies your agreement. It can include information on how you will care for your children, such as:

  • How much time they will spend with each parent
  • Where the kids will reside
  • What is to happen with the children during school holidays?
  • Arrangements for travel out of the UK for holidays
  • Other arrangements that might be necessary  
  • Conditions to ensure safety of child

The consent order must be signed by both you and your ex-partner and submitted for approval. You will not be required to demonstrate that you have tried mediation.

The court still has to be satisfied that the arrangements are suitable and in the best interests of the children and are therefore likely to still request a safeguarding report from Cafcass before approving the proposed order, some courts also still list for an initial hearing after the safeguarding report has been received before approving whilst other courts will approve the proposed order if no safeguarding issues are raised. The process is however more streamlined than where no agreement exists and an application to the court is made.

If the judge decides that your consent order is not in your children’s best interests, they can change the order and or seek further information and or evidence before deciding what is best for your children. The courts consider a number of important issues while determining child arrangements (contact and residence), such as:

  • First concern child’s welfare
  • The child’s wishes and feelings
  • The child’s educational, physical, and emotional needs
  • Likely effect on the child if circumstances change as result of any order.
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics that will be relevant to the court’s decision
  • Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
  • The ability of the child’s parents or other relevant individuals to meet the child’s needs. and
  • The orders and authority available to the court.

Additionally, it must presume when considering issues of child arrangements and or parental responsibility, unless proven otherwise, that involving each parent of some direct or indirect kind (but not any particular division of the child’s time) in the life of the child concerned will further promote that child’s well-being. 

What happens if both of you cannot agree on everything?

Even after mediation or other support, you can seek a court to settle anything on which you and another party cannot agree.

Before requesting a court application or order, you must demonstrate that you have attended a meeting to determine whether mediation is the best option for you. You won’t have to in some cases, such as if there has been domestic abuse or if social services are involved.

You aren’t likely to get help with court costs if you need a lawyer unless you are leaving an abusive partner.

Parental Responsibility as Separated Parents

Mothers typically take up parenting responsibilities for their children right after birth.

If a father was married to the kid’s mother and/or is named on the birth certificate, then they have parental responsibility for the child.

In the event that unmarried parents separate:

  • When they separate, parents who were in a civil partnership or who had adopted children have the same parental rights and responsibilities as married parents.

Where there is no marriage or civil partnership parental responsibility may be obtained for the father in a number of ways: –

  • By the father’s name being registered on the birth certificate
  • Completing a parental responsibility agreement form and registering the same
  •  A court order for parental responsibility
  • A to live with child arrangement order
  • Who cohabitated before separating could need to file for parental responsibility.

Direct and indirect contact or time with children.

Most usually time with children is direct and in person. This can also be supported and aided by indirect contact such as telephone, video calling, correspondence and social media.

Direct time with children is usually unsupervised, but there may be occasions where some supervision is necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child. 

Contact with children may, in some situations, however, be restricted to updates from the resident parent and some indirect contact on the child’s birthday or on special occasions like Christmas. This may be as a result of some harm either suffered by the child or likely to be suffered by the child and or the other parent with whom they live.

Where there has been domestic abuse, violence and or control within the relationship and or since separation, this may affect the type and or frequency of time that a child can spend with or how they maintain a relationship with the other parent. Each situation is however different, and the court would still need to start with the presumption that maintaining a relationship and having involvement with both parents would further the child’s welfare and development and would need to see evidence to the contrary to make more restricted and limited indirect or no contact orders. 

At Gillbanks Family Law Ipswich, our devoted and knowledgeable family lawyers can assist you with disputes about separation and childcare arrangements. Call us at 01473 937888 or email vanessa@gillbanksfamilylaw.com to get in touch.