When considering the best way to resolve a dispute in relation to children, it can be helpful to look at how other couples have gone about matters (for better or worse), and how their dispute was eventually resolved. One such case study is as follows:
An unmarried couple David and Jane had been separated for around 12 months. They had one child together, Jeremy (aged 12). Since separating, Jeremy had lived with his mother, and been having weekend contact with his father (Fri-Mon), although for various reasons such contact had been fairly irregular. Jeremy had recently displayed worrying signs of anxiety and depression, which had led to the school raising concerns about him. David believed that Jeremy’s mental health had been affected by not having more regular contact with him leaving Jeremy feeling insecure, whereas Jane was concerned that Jeremy’s mental health may have been negatively impacted by David’s treatment of him during their weekends together.
The parties discussed the situation directly between them, but were unable to agree matters. They therefore attended mediation to try and help them reach an agreement. With the help of a mediator they agreed the best way forward both in terms of the contact that David should have with Jeremy and the support that should be provided to Jeremy in relation to his mental health. Unfortunately both parties failed to keep to the terms agreed in mediation. As a result both parties sought advice from solicitors.
As David’s contact with Jeremy had remained irregular, despite the agreement reached in mediation, he felt he had no choice but to issue an application for a child arrangements order with the Court. Although an application was issued with the Court, letters were exchanged between the parties’ solicitors with a view to trying to agree matters prior to the first hearing.
In advance of the first hearing the parties agreed via solicitors that Jeremy should be referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) in order to be assessed and to be provided with therapy as appropriate. It was further agreed that CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) should provide their recommendations in relation to contact moving forward. At the first hearing the parties agreed interim contact between David and Jeremy. Whilst interim arrangements enabled David and Jeremy to spend time with each other every weekend, it did not include overnight stays. The agreement was intended to provide Jeremy with the security of regular contact with his father, but also to limit the length of contact on each occasion due to Jane’s concerns. The matter was then listed for a further hearing, once CAMHS had completed their work with Jeremy.
The assessment report was received and CAFCASS provided their recommendations shortly before the next hearing, leaving both parties feeling better placed to agree child arrangements that were in Jeremy’s best interests. Discussions took place prior to the hearing and led to an agreement being reached between the parties, which included alternate weekend contact (Fri-Sun) between David and Jeremy. Both parties also felt better informed about Jeremy’s worries and concerns and how they could alleviate these going forward, which included the need for Jeremy to know in advance when he would next be seeing his father. A final order was therefore made by the Court by agreement without the need for the case to proceed to a contested final hearing.
Whilst it can be helpful to consider case studies such as the above in terms of the difficulties encountered, the options available and the manner in which the dispute was eventually resolved, the reality is that the facts of every particular case are unique. As a result we would always urge parties to seek early advice from a family solicitor in the event that they encounter problems with their ex-partner in relation to their children.
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