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How to resolve disputes surrounding the arrangements for children

Following a separation, parents will need to decide upon the future arrangements for their children to spend time and / or live with each of them.  It is generally considered best if they can decide upon these arrangements between themselves, to keep relations amicable.  This may not, however, always be possible where parents hold entrenched and opposing views, or if there are safeguarding concerns about the children being cared for by one parent, or allegations of domestic abuse by one or both parents.

In such cases, the alternative forms of dispute resolution that we shall consider below may not be appropriate and court proceedings will be required.  In other cases, however, these alternative forms of dispute resolution can be more constructive and less adversarial than traditional litigation at court.

Direct discussions and Parenting Plans

Where parents can have direct discussions with each other, they are encouraged to have a Parenting Plan in place.  This is a written plan that, as well as covering key issues such as the living arrangements for children and how much time they shall spend with the other parent and their wider family, can also address some of the practical issues associated with parenting that do not come to mind instantly e.g. bedtime routines for children, how to discipline them, what pocket money to give them, and how to handle communications from the school or GP.

Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) who assist the court in making recommendations for the arrangements for children, have a template available on their website, which parents that are going through a divorce can access for free.  A link to this template is set out below:

https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/parenting-plan/

Although not legally binding, Parenting Plans like the one prepared by Cafcass can help to promote open discussions about co-parenting and enable parents to consider the needs of their children and how they can work together in meeting them.

If separating parents need assistance with developing a Parenting Plan, they are encouraged to consider alternative forms of dispute resolution available, such as those below.

Mediation

Mediation is a process that can allow for parents to have open discussions about co-parenting with the assistance of a neutral mediator.  Parents will normally attend these meetings together, but in some cases, they can be arranged to help parents avoid coming into contact with each other, particularly if there are allegations of domestic abuse.

The Mediator’s role is to manage the process even-handedly, provide information, signpost where parents can obtain further assistance, and help to manage their discussions.

In discussing the arrangements for children, the Mediator will assist parents by considering the practical implications of their proposals and how they can meet their children’s needs.  These discussions can take into consideration the parents’ respective working commitments and the children’s educational, social, and developmental needs.

If these discussions are successful, the mediator can help the parents to prepare a Parenting Plan.

Working with other experts – Family Consultants and Parenting Coordinators

Separating parents can also consider working with other experts.

A Family Consultant is a trained relationship therapist or coach, who can provide emotional and practical support to separating parents in navigating their way through the breakdown of their relationship or marriage.  Like Mediators, Family Consultants will be able to help parents consider how to best meet their children’s needs and assist them in compiling a Parenting Plan.

A Parenting Coordinator has undergone specific training and has experience in working with families, often based on their time spent in the legal, mental health or social work sectors.  They will assist parents in developing the skills needed to communicate more effectively with each other, help them to consider the impact of the parental conflict on their children and find ways to minimise that, as well as assist them in both implementing and managing the arrangements for their children.  Where parents reach an impasse and cannot resolve their dispute, the Parenting Coordinator can decide for them.

Both Family Consultants and Parenting Coordinators will be neutral when working with separating parents.

Court Proceedings

In cases where parents cannot reach agreements amicably or where alternative dispute resolution breaks down, parents can apply to court for a judge to determine the arrangements for the children.

In making a decision, the judge will have the children’s welfare at the forefront of their mind and will apply the welfare checklist, which is set out below:

  • the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the children concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding)
  • the physical, emotional and educational needs of the children
  • the likely effect on the children of any change in their circumstances
  • The children’s ages, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
  • any harm which the children have suffered or are at risk of suffering
  • how capable each of the children’s parents are, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, in meeting their needs
  • the range of powers available to the court in the proceedings

If the parents are unable to come to an agreement during the proceedings and the court considers it be in the children’s best interests, it shall make a Child Arrangements Order determining where the children should live and / or when they will spend time with their parents.  This Order shall be legally binding on the parties until the children attain the age of sixteen years, save for exceptional circumstances where it may remain in force for longer.

At Tisshaws, we have two Mediators who can help parents that are keen to resolve the arrangements for their children following a separation or divorce, without hostility.  Our team also has vast experience in advising parents on the best options available to resolve any disputes concerning the future arrangements for their children. While we strive to resolve these issues as amicably as possible, we are experienced in litigation if that is required as a final resort.

We offer an initial consultation of up to one hour for £50.00 (incl. VAT) where you can receive further advice.  To book an initial consultation with us, please contact 01444 472700, email us at info@tisshawssolicitors.co.uk or complete the form below.

 

 

 

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