Agreeing arrangements for children when a relationship breaks down
A relationship breakdown often means a dramatic change in life for all involved. Firstly, it is important to understand that all families are different, and what works for one family may not work for another. However, when parents live apart arrangements need to be agreed about how and when children will spend time with each of their parents.
If a couple can agree arrangements between themselves, it will be beneficial for all concerned and it will have a positive impact on the child’s wellbeing.
Sometimes though relations are not amicable and if one parent is being prevented from spending time with their child, they may need to consider applying to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order.
A Child Arrangements Order can specify where a child “shall live” and what time they shall “spend with” each parent. The Court no longer uses the terms “access” and “custody”.
Where there is a dispute, it can be helpful to understand at an early stage how the Court will consider the child’s welfare. If each parent can set out their expectations and be realistic about the compromises which can be made, it is more likely to lead to a positive outcome for the child.
The welfare checklist
The Children Act 1989 states that the welfare of the child must be the paramount consideration. When it comes to welfare, the Act stipulates a number of issues that should be taken into account. It is helpful to have these in mind, though some will undoubtably play more prominence in your own family circumstances than others.
The checklist stipulates the following considerations:
(a) the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings, considered in the light of age and understanding; the older your child is the more weight a Court would place on their own wishes and feelings about when they want to see each of their parents. It is important to ensure any wishes your child expresses are their true feelings on the matter and are not reflective of what your child thinks you want to hear. Depending on the age of your child, you may decide that they should be spoken to by someone independently, and they should be reassured that they will not be in trouble or offending either of their parents by saying what they feel.
(b) the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs; both parents need to be mindful of any additional needs their child may have, and how these can be best met. For example, if one parent has typically taken charge of meeting additional medical needs, does the other parent now require some additional support or training to bring them up to speed in meeting those needs too.
(c) the likely effect of any change in circumstances; this will depend on the character of your child and could also be influenced by any additional needs they may have. For example, an autistic child may struggle with a change in their routine. Both parents need to work together to try and minimise this disruption to their child and to think ahead as to how changes can be best managed.
(d) the child’s age, sex, background, and any characteristics of which the court considers relevant; an older child will have a different level of independence and needs to a younger child. Arrangements for your child will likely have to change as they grow older in order to continue to meet their needs. Your child’s background can also come into play in what is best to meet their welfare needs, this includes their cultural background. It is important for a child to be given the opportunity to explore and learn about their culture and traditions as they grow up. This can be an important factor when parents are from different cultural backgrounds.
(e) any harm which your child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; if issues of neglect or abuse have been a feature or concern, then a careful investigation into the potential safeguarding issues for your child will need to occur. It is important to be aware that harm can occur to a child through them witnessing abuse of another, for example by seeing domestic abuse in the home.
(f) the capability of each parent to meet the child’s needs; if either parent has any disability or other issue which impairs their ability to look after the child, then consideration will need to be given as to how this can best be overcome this and what support could be put in place in order for your child to enjoy a relationship with both parents.
Once you have considered the welfare factors, you then need to look practically at how suitable arrangements can be achieved between you.
How we can help
There are a range of options for spending time with your child, which can be either direct, as in face-to-face contact, or indirect via letters, emails, calls, letters, gifts and cards. Our lawyers can help you to agree suitable arrangements in the hope that Court proceedings will not be necessary.
We are able to offer you a fixed fee appointment to advise you in relation your family’s personal circumstances.
Please contact Lorraine Ridley at our Doncaster office on 01302 340005, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.