When parents separate, new arrangements have to be made about the care and welfare of the children. Ideally, parents should reach an agreement and discuss matters with the children in a neutral, reassuring and age-appropriate way.
The majority of parents are able to agree between themselves what should happen, but some do not. It can be hard to work out the right thing to do and how and when to involve the children.
This article sets out some top tips for parents who have not (yet) reached agreement and are thinking that they may have to take their case to court.
Things to think about before applying to court:
- In most cases, parents share responsibility for their children. This joint responsibility continues even after separation.
- It is far better to talk to each other to try to agree how you will both care for your children
- and bring them up.
- If talking to each other is difficult, get some help. Trained mediators and counsellors can make it easier to find answers even when this seems difficult.
- Arrangements for children made by agreement work far better for parents and children.
Remember the following:
- Encourage the children to have a good and loving relationship with both parents.
- Try to establish and maintain a working understanding with the other parent even though you are no longer a couple.
- The law requires that a child has a right to regular and frequent personal contact with both parents unless there is a very good reason to the contrary.
- The most frequent reason contact is stopped is if it is not safe for the child for it to continue.
- A failure to pay maintenance, even though frustrating, is not a good reason to stop contact.
Communications with the children
Both parents should encourage and help the children:
- Keep in mind that separation is stressful for the children as well as the parents.
- Help the children to understand that both parents still love them and are trying to do the best for them.
- Explain in terms a child can understand what is happening in the family and keep talking positively to them.
- Emphasise to the children that you want them to have a loving and open relationship with both parents
The children should be protected from disagreements between parents:
- Neither parent should let the children feel that what is happening is their fault.
- The children should never hear either parent running down the other.
- The children should never be made to think that they should turn against the other parent because they believe that is what you want.
- If there is ill-feeling between you and the other parent, try to have conversations about arrangements when the children are not present.
- Listen carefully to what the other parent says and do not reject it out of hand without thinking about it.
Talking to the children:
- Think about how they are feeling.
- Listen carefully to what the children are saying.
- Depending on the ages of the children, try to take account of their wishes and feelings when making arrangements with the other parent.
- Talk to the children and the other parent openly, honestly and with respect. Children will soon discover if you are not being straightforward with them.
- Explain your views carefully to the other parent so that the chances of a misunderstanding are reduced.
- If you think that there might be difficulty even when you have reached an agreement, it is often useful for it to be written down and signed by both parents as a reminder.
- Make sure the other parent agrees
- If you cannot agree, arrange to go together to a mediator (unless it is unsafe for you to be together).
- If you cannot agree, do not just change the arrangements but apply to the court for a court order.
If there is a court order already in place, remember:
- The court order cannot be changed without the permission of the court UNLESS both parents agree
- If both parents do agree to a change, it is essential that the new arrangements are written down and both parents sign.
- Until there is agreement between the parents or a new court order is in place, the existing court order must be followed unless there is a case of extreme urgency, which would usually involve the safety of a child.
A family lawyer can advise you as to the likely views the court will take and can help you to keep disagreements with your co-parent out of court. A good family lawyer can also get to the heart of understanding your family dynamics and can help provide a holistic approach to the issues in your case. They can point you to helpful coparenting resources, and can help find creative solutions and signpost you to appropriate sources of support, such as family therapy, child-inclusive mediation and co-parenting classes.
For more information, please get in touch.
This article is for general information only and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you have any questions relating to your particular circumstances, you should seek independent legal advice.