The fracturing of a family unit is sadly common place. When the family separates, the adults involved are often overwhelmed by the situation, whether emotionally, financially or physically. Dealing with their own feelings about the new situation can result in them losing focus on the needs of children of the family, especially when adult conflict is high.
Many relationships have faced huge strain over the last year due to the additional pressures of the pandemic, including working from home, furlough, loss of employment and home-schooling.
Parents want what they perceive to be the best for their children, but when the relationship is fractured, too often so are the once dearly held shared beliefs of what is best for the children.
Add into the equation new partners, possibly with their own children and family dynamic, extended family members with a specific view about the ex-partner, and there is a possibility that the adults can lose sight of the children’s needs and the children can be left to flounder. This can be disastrous for on a child’s emotional development and self-esteem, causing irreparable damage.
On Friday 22 April 2021, it was seven years since the Children and Families Act 2014 introduced the Child Arrangements Programme for dealing with disputes regarding children. The key intention was to resolve child disputes out of Court where possible. The requirement to attend mediation in the majority of cases, before Court application, intends to keep discussions between parents. Often referred to as Contact or Access, a Child Arrangements Order is always made in terms of “lives with” or “spends time with”.
In the meantime, we have come to terms with delays regarding Child Arrangements Orders, as a result of Court caseloads, COVID 19 and lack of legal funding. The Courts have now come to terms with numerous parents taking their own cases to Court. That can cause its own difficulties, as the judge then becomes the parents’ legal adviser, ring master, mediator and judge at the same time.
From the moment you decide to separate
Consideration of what is in the best interests of the child is paramount. Have discussions by any medium about what you each think is most important for the children. There are plenty of online resources to assist you. Completing the parenting plan from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) www.Cafcass.gov.uk will give both parents a starting point, highlighting areas of agreement, concern and issues to be resolved.
This will assist you in understanding that both parents want the best for the children, they may need to compromise on what the “best” might mean.
It is a good idea to have your agreement regarding the children recorded in a parenting agreement that you both sign. This can be drafted with the assistance of a solicitor. It gives both parties something to refer to if they are unsure what was agreed. It also provides valuable evidence in the event that things go wrong further down the line, as it can be relied upon in mediation or even during Court proceedings. You can put anything you want into the agreement and make it bespoke to your children’s needs.
Online resources such as www.cozi.com or www.talkingparents.com and others offer facilities to liaise with the other parent and keep each other informed regarding medical appointments, holidays, holiday care, school appointments and anything else relevant. Other facilities are available.
Disputes and disagreements
If you have a dispute, try to communicate with one another first. If that doesn’t work, the family team at Jacksons Law Firm can help you to negotiate the path forward. We attempt to agree matters between parents first and foremost. If that is not achievable, the next step would be mediation. If mediation fails, the last resort is an application for a Child Arrangements Order. This application will allow the Court to consider what is in the best interests of the children, having account to the welfare needs of the child, any expressed wishes and feelings, the views of the parties and the input from CAFCASS.
Once an order is made, it will bring with it a warning notice. If the terms of the order are breached without reasonable excuse, sanctions apply including fines, unpaid work and even imprisonment.
If you would like advice regarding parenting apart, please contact Heather Snowdon HSnowdon@jacksons-law.com or Beth Courtney-Walker BCourtney-Walker@jacksons-law.com for free initial advice or telephone 01642 356500/0191 2322574.