Putting children first after divorce or separation

Divorce or separation are one of life’s most stressful events. If there are children involved in the process, it becomes even more complex. Though it can be hard to reach a resolution in what are often contentious circumstances, putting children first in any family dispute is paramount. So, how can parents ensure that they make the right decisions when it comes to child arrangements?

Considerations when deciding on child arrangements

Any couple with children needs to consider a number of factors when a relationship breaks down, such as:

  • Living arrangements – where is the most practical place for the child to spend their time? Could the child divide their time equally between residences or would that be impractical for them? Does one parent live nearer school than another? Do both parents have accommodation that is suitable for the child to live in?
  • Childcare and contact – is one parent more available than the other to provide childcare? Are there wider support networks available to help care for the child, such as grandparents or step-parents and how do they fit into arrangements? When are the best times for each parent to schedule time with the child? How is contact to be maintained (in person, via telephone, etc.)?
  • Financial support – how will the financial responsibilities of caring for the child be divided? This will often depend upon the child’s primary residence and parents’ respective earnings.

When parents agree on child arrangements

In an ideal world, parents will agree on the welfare arrangements for their children. If this is the case, there is no need for formalities, although the parties can draft a parenting plan if they want to set out their agreement in writing for clarity. As circumstances change, they can renegotiate what the best options are for their child between themselves.

There’s also an option to make things legally binding. A good family law solicitor will be able to draft a ‘consent order’ which will then be sent to the court for approval. In most cases, the order will be approved if it is in the child’s best interests. If not, the court may amend or re-draft the order accordingly.

What are the options open to parents who don’t agree?

Where parents have problems coming to an agreement, other routes must be taken.

Mediation

Using a trained, professional mediator can help both sides come to a mutually-agreeable settlement. While it might not suit every case (where there are violent or abusive circumstances, for example) it’s generally a highly effective means of resolving family disputes. It’s also a more cost-effective and less stressful route than court action. If an agreement is reached through mediation, the mediation document itself isn’t legally binding. However, as with other informal agreements, it can form the basis of a legal consent order drawn up by a solicitor.

Family arbitration

Also an effective tool in reaching a resolution, family arbitration is similar to mediation in that it brings parties together outside of the court system. However, in contrast to a mediator, the arbitrator is a family law expert who can make a decision that the parties agree to be bound by. This decision is as enforceable as one made by the courts but is arrived at via a more flexible, less time-consuming process.

Applying for a court order

If other avenues of negotiation have failed, parents can apply for a court order. There are different types depending upon the particular issue at the heart of the disagreement. For example, child arrangements orders will determine residency and contact, specific issue orders deal with contentious points, such as religious upbringing, and prohibited steps orders can prevent one parent from making certain decisions.

The court may initially recommend further mediation or other dispute resolution options, such as courses, if they feel it may help produce a settlement. If they can’t encourage the parties to agree, they will consider the arguments put forward alongside other circumstances, including the risk of harm to the child, parental ability, the child’s needs and their wishes. Once the court order is in place, it’s legally binding and can be enforced by either party.

Get the right professional advice from family law experts

Getting the right legal advice can save you time, money and heartache when you’re in the middle of a family dispute. Divorce and separation are rarely easy to navigate, but it’s important to make decisions in the best interests of any children affected by the breakdown of a relationship.

Our legal experts are here to guide you through the divorce and separation process and help you put your children first. With experienced mediation and collaborative law solicitors on our team, you’re assured of the best professional support and advice that aims to help you reach a swift, amicable resolution in the most cost-efficient, productive way for your family.

For more help and information, get in touch with Rowberry Morris’ family law solicitors today.