Making arrangements for children following divorce
It is well known that divorce can have a traumatic impact on the children involved. The family life they have known, no matter how unstable, is changed forever, and they will understandably be worried about what future holds. The divorcing parents will also be anxious about their financial situation, and what arrangements will be made to ensure the children are adequately looked after immediately, and in the future.
Making arrangements for children includes decisions such as:
- With who and where the children will live
- When and where the other parent will be able to spend time with the children
If the divorcing parents can agree on these important matters, it is recommended, but not legally required, that the decisions be put in writing, and hence be made legally binding.
What if there is disagreement regarding arrangements for children?
No matter how acrimonious the divorce, the interests of the children should always be put front and centre, and a balanced approach is taken. Fair decisions made by the parents have the highest chance of remaining in place in the coming years. However, despite the best efforts of family solicitors and the family law system, disagreements over arrangements for children can and do occur.
There are various ways to resolve disputes regarding children before the matter goes to court – including round-table discussion and mediation.
Round-table discussions often take part in three rooms – with the husband and his solicitor in one room, the wife and her solicitor in another, and a separate room for the two solicitors to convene. Round-table meetings can help to maintain a respectful relationship between the divorcing couple by avoiding direct conflict, and avoid the cost, time, and stress that asking the court to intervene entails.
Mediation offers a way to resolve a disagreement with the aid of an impartial third-party. It is highly effective and can ensure that the long-term relationship of the divorcing couple is preserved in the interests of the children into the future. This is because the process is voluntary and is focused on achieving a win-win for all involved, rather than a win-lose scenario associated with court proceedings.
What if we still disagree on the arrangements for our children?
If you and your ex-partner are ultimately unable to agree on all arrangements for your children, either between yourselves directly, or through round-table meetings or mediation, the next stage is to go to court. Be assured, however, if you do decide to seek the assistance of the courts, the welfare of your children will remain the main focus of your family solicitors and the courts. When making a decision, the judge or magistrate will always consider the:
- wishes and feelings of the child
- physical, emotional and educational needs of the child
- effect any changes may have on the child
- child’s age, gender, characteristics and background
- possible risk of harm to the child
- the ability of parents to meet the child’s needs
Before commencing court proceedings, in most situations, you will both need to show you have attended a Memorandum Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with your ex-partner. A MIAM is overseen by a trained mediator who will explain how the mediation process works, its benefits and disadvantages, and answer any questions you might have. If mediation is not effective, or if it is agreed that is not appropriate, you will then be able to seek a Child Arrangement Order from the court.
A Child Arrangement Order states where your child lives, when your child spends time with each parent, and when and what other types of contact will take place (e.g. phone calls).
To commence the process, it will be necessary to complete and submit a form C100 (‘Application under the Children Act 1989 for a child arrangements order’) to the court. Following your application, both parents will be asked to attend a ‘directions hearing’. The meeting will also be attended by a judge (or magistrate) and a court adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). The CAFCASS representative will look after the best interests of your children in any decisions that are made.
In many cases, the directions hearing is sufficient to conclude the outstanding matters of disagreement. If so, the decisions will be formally
documented and be made legally binding by way a Consents Order.
If the initial hearing was not sufficient to resolve all of the outstanding issues, the judge might define a timetable for further sessions – including further hearings, mediation and/or attendance of a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’.
At any point during proceedings, if an agreement is achieved, then the process can be stopped.
It is always best to agree on matters relating to children as amicably as possible, whether with the assistance of specialist family mediators, or not. Divorce is difficult enough, but with the added emotional trauma of a lengthy and angry dispute over what is best for your children, it can highly be damaging to all concerned. The more amicable the outcome, the more likely it will be that everyone will maintain a respectful relationship in the best interest of the children. By engaging our services, we can guide you through every stage of the process – ensuring that the weight of the process is taken from your shoulders as much as possible. You will be able to relax in the knowledge that the best arrangements will be made for you and your children.
If you're also struggling with the end of a marriage, our experienced divorce solicitors are available to support you through this difficult time and assist with family mediation services. Please contact Guillaumes LLP Solicitors