Parenting through divorce
by Tracey Cook
How do we agree arrangements for our children?
When a relationship breaks down, one of the first questions parents face is “how will we agree upon the arrangements for the children?”
Making the transition to co-parenting can be a challenging and daunting prospect for parents, but with the right support and guidance, it is possible to create two loving environments where the children can enjoy time with each of their parents, without being made to feel guilty for doing so.
Who has the right to make decisions about schools, medical care, holidays and where the children will live?
The simple answer is that each parent who has Parental Responsibility will have the automatic right to make the above decisions and if the parents are married, this right is gained upon the birth of the child. If the parents are unmarried, provided the father is named on the birth certificate, he will have parental responsibility. Alternatively, if not named on the birth certificate, the father can make an application to the court for parental responsibility.
Parental Responsibility in a single sex relationship is a more complex area, but by way of an outline, both parties will have parental responsibility if they were civil partners at the time of the fertility treatment. If they were not civil partners, the birth mother will automatically gain parental responsibility upon the birth of the child and the remaining parent can obtain parental responsibility by making an application for parental responsibility, or by jointly registering the birth.
But what does parental responsibility mean?
Parental responsibility provides each parent with the right to make decisions on behalf of their child. These decisions can include choosing the child’s school, medical care, how they are raised or disciplined, vaccinations, holidays abroad, where they will live and in determining the child’s religion.
In the case of a relationship breakdown, it will also give the parent the right to make an application for a child arrangements order.
What is a child arrangements order?
In the event of a relationship coming to an end, it is up to the parents to decide upon the time each parent will get to spend with the child. You may have previously heard this referred to as ‘contact’ or ‘custody’.
In the first instance, when considering the arrangements for time to be spent with each parent, where possible, the courts encourage parents to agree these arrangements between them, with the first consideration being; what is in the child’s best interests? In the absence of serious concerns about the child’s welfare, it is considered to be in the child’s best interests to spend quality time with both of their parents.
So where do we start?
The CAFCASS website provides a parenting plan that can be downloaded from the following link https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/parenting-together/parenting-plan/ and this is a good starting point for parents to discuss the practical decisions, such as the children’s living arrangements, health care and educational needs. Remember to also consider things such as school holidays, special occasions, religious festivals and trips abroad. It is also worth considering who will look after the child if they are unwell and if it is intended for there to be overnight stays.
When discussing the arrangements for the children, the Resolution website provides a leaflet, ‘Parenting through Separation’ which provides parents with useful points to consider, and this can be obtained from their website using the link below:
What happens if we are unable to reach an agreement?
If you are unable to reach an agreement, you would be advised to consider mediation. Mediation can assist parents in reaching an agreement, without having to resort to expensive and stressful litigation. A mediator will assist both parents in resolving any sticking points in agreeing the arrangements for the children. It is intended that the cost of Mediation be shared between the parties and there are government funded vouchers that can be obtained to reduce the burden of cost. You can find out if you are eligible for the voucher scheme using the link below:
What if we just cannot agree or if mediation were to fail?
If mediation was not suitable in your circumstances or you simply cannot agree, you would be advised to seek help from a family solicitor. A solicitor would in the first instance attempt to establish the issue that is preventing you from reaching an agreement and then negotiate on your behalf to reach a mutual agreement.
Only as a last resort, would it be advisable to make an application to the court for a child arrangements order.
What is a child Arrangements Order?
A child arrangements order determines who the child lives with, and the time spent with each parent. In some instances, it may be preferable for the child to ‘live with’ both parents. This does not have to mean that the child spends 50% of their time with each parent, as there may be determining factors such as school hours, work patterns, or the child’s out of school activities which make this impossible. However, it does mean that the court recognizes that the child is cared for by both parents, unlike historically when it may have been considered that the child would predominantly live with mum and have contact with dad.
In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for the child arrangements order to include a ‘lives with’ order which determines who the child lives with. This means that only that parent will have the automatic right to take the child out of the country for a maximum of 28 days. The other parent would need the ‘lives with’ parent to consent to any time abroad.
In extreme circumstances, it may be necessary to include a ‘prohibited steps order’ to prevent one parent from removing the child from the other parent’s care and this can include removal from school, other carers and removal from the country. It can also be used to prevent one parent from relocating to another part of the country, until a court has had the opportunity to decide upon whether that can happen.
My partner won’t let me see my child, what can I do?
If one parent is refusing to allow the other to spend time with the child, provided the parent who is being denied contact with the child has parental responsibility, an application can be made to the court for a child arrangements order, as discussed above. In the first instance, this application can be made with or without the help of a solicitor and if you are considering making such an application yourself, there is useful information provided on the government website below on how to submit the application.
Speak to our Specialist Family Lawyers
Whether you have recently separated or are considering separating, or if you are experiencing difficulties in reaching an agreement as to the arrangements for your children and would like further advice, please contact our family team who will be able to assist you further.
We have local offices in Wells, Street and Somerton and our team are also accessible by email, phone and video conferencing for your convenience.
For further advice please call us on 01749 836100 or Ask Us A Question.