When any couple separates the children are always, rightly, their priority. It is normal to be worried about the effects of divorce on children. The priority of the children also underpins the law in England and Wales.
Parents are strongly encouraged to make arrangements for the care of the children between themselves, by agreement. Any involvement by the Courts is strictly either:
- A last resort, when agreement cannot be reached.
- There is some urgency where Court intervention is needed.
There are many options for how you can agree on care of the children but as long as your priority is doing whatever is in the ‘best interests’ of the children then you will not go far wrong.
Options to reach agreement
Talk with your former partner
This is invaluable to help keep legal costs down and co-parenting up. Although this is easier said than done, speaking with your former partner about care of the children is the best thing you can do. However, do try to keep your discussions calm, amicable and only about the children, and not the difficulties in your relationship. Always be sure to talk out of the ear-shot of the children. The children should never be involved in adult conversations as this is almost always harmful to them. If necessary, follow up discussions with an email or text to make sure there is no misunderstanding.
Mediate with a neutral person
If you and your former partner are struggling to talk, you could try using a neutral third party (e.g. a mutual friend) to be present when you speak, or they can pass messages between you both and try to help you both reach an agreement.
Create a parenting agreement
If you have agreed on how the children are going to be cared for then you can record this in a ‘parenting agreement’. This is a document which sets out your agreement. It is not legally binding – even if prepared by a solicitor – but it helps to record any agreement reached and can be referred to for clarity if there are any disagreements further down the line.
Options if you are struggling to agree
Mediation with a professional
You can contact a professional mediator who is trained to help you reach an agreement about care of the children. Always make sure the mediator is accredited by the Family Mediation Council. Mediation will cost, but can be valuable to help you and your former partner reach an agreement without having to involve solicitors or Courts.
Always ask your mediator about the availability of Legal Aid.
Talk to a solicitor
You can use a solicitor to send an initial letter to your former partner to explain your position on the care of the children. This can be done before or after mediation – depending on your situation. You will need a solicitor who can advise you on child arrangement programmes – formerly known as a custody solicitor.
Apply to Court for a Child Arrangements Programme
This is a last resort or for urgency. You should explore all other options for resolving any dispute, before applying to the Court. You should get legal advice before going to Court. You almost always must mediate through a professional before you go to Court.
If you need advice or assistance with any of these methods to resolve issues about your children’s care and the effect separation can have on them then please contact Greg Bowyer, Head of Family Law Team on 0121 746 3002 or directly to [email protected].