Ending a marriage takes on a whole new dimension of grief and guilt when children are involved. The more informed parents are as to their options around arrangements for their children, the better prepared they will be to support them through what can be a traumatic time, no matter how amicable the parting of ways is.
Child care Arrangements – The Basics
The best arrangements for children following a separation are those agreed to by the parents between themselves. This has been recognised for many years and therefore, the whole culture of the family law system in the UK is designed around supporting parents so they can agree on child care arrangements that will suit their unique family setup.
There is no preset formula for working out how much time a child should spend with each parent. However, research has shown that two things are very important in reaching a good arrangement;
1. The child spends time with both parents; and
2. The child is involved in the decision-making process
How much input the child has will obviously depend on their age and maturity.
In very few cases do parents end up sharing the child care on an equal basis – this is just not a practical or appropriate solution for some families, and it can be unsettling for children.
It is often advantageous to write down the arrangements you and your partner come to in a Parenting Plan to avoid accusations caused by miscommunication later down the line. Grandparents can also be involved in these plans. Parenting plans force participants to put the needs of the child first and work out a practical way of communicating and settling disputes with each other.
Sometimes parents, despite their best intentions, need a third party to help them sort out arrangements for their children following a separation. In most relationship breakdowns communication problems are the main or a contributory reason. This does, of course, create a major problem when right at the time when the parties find out that their communication problems have led to the breakdown of their relationship they have to communicate about a range of issues to disentangle themselves from each other. If you are struggling to agree on who has the children on certain weekends or during the holidays, engaging in the mediation process can assist you in working things out together with an impartial, supportive third party.
All family law mediators are highly trained. They will not advise you or present solutions, instead they will facilitate the process, leaving you in charge of the outcome. This is done via a series of meetings between you, your spouse and the mediator.
Once arrangements have been made, the mediator will prepare a Memorandum of Understanding and send a copy to each of you. This is not yet binding, and you can then discuss the outcome of the mediation with your solicitor before you finally commit yourself to an agreement. If you do, both your lawyers will convert the understanding into a formally binding agreement.
The mediator will meet with you for as many sessions as are necessary, usually charged at an hourly rate. This can be a bit less for mediators from a counselling background, who may charge between £75 and £200 while solicitor-mediators charges may be £150 to £350 , depending on seniority and location. However, with typically three to five sessions, the costs are far below those of formal litigation.
The Family Court
Sometimes, in cases involving high animosity or where there is domestic violence involved, mediation is not a solution. In these situations or where mediation has failed, couples can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order.
Before going to court, couples must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) unless circumstances apply which mean you do not have to attend. These can include:
• domestic violence
• child protection concerns
• related proceedings being issued in the previous four months
• disability leading to an inability to facilitate a MIAM
• lack of contact details for respondents
• imprisonment/bail conditions preventing engagement
• non-residency in England and Wales
• that a child would be one of the prospective parties
• unavailability of MIAM facilities.
The process for Child Arrangements Orders is set out in the Child Arrangements Programme (CAP).
From 22nd April 2014, residence and contact orders were abolished and replaced by “child arrangements orders”. These orders establish:
1. with whom a child is to live and when and
2. with whom, when and how a child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with someone.
In practice, these are very similar to residence and contact orders.
Once you have confirmed with the court that a MIAM has been attended, you can serve an application for a Child Arrangements Order on the Respondent (the other parent, grandparent, etc.). Once this is done, you will receive a date for a ‘first hearing dispute resolution appointment’. In this session, the judge will examine the reasons why you have brought the application to the court. If the matter cannot be settled at this first hearing or the judge requires further information, he or she will set a date for when further documents need to be filed in court. A date for another hearing will then be set. At this hearing, the judge will ask the parties if they can come to some agreement on the disputed matter, for example, who the children will spend Christmas with this year and then make a formal order to that effect.
Litigation is very expensive and stressful which is why the courts will only become involved in making arrangements for children when absolutely necessary.
In summary, even if you know people who have been through a similar situation, it is important to obtain independent legal advice if you are making an application or responding to a Child Arrangements Order, as the process can be complicated.
You can expect your solicitor to be 100 percent behind you and your partner working out the arrangements for your children between yourselves, in a way that is beneficial for your family as a whole.
Sultan Lloyd Solicitors have the experience and expertise required to successfully advise clients on an arrangement for children and other issues pertaining to separation and divorce. To find out how we can help you, please call our Birmingham office on 0121 222 7643 to make an appointment with one of our family law team.