When people separate – whether married or not – arrangements for children are usually (or should be) paramount. Most people decide between themselves how to make these practical arrangements – after all, they are your children and you know what is best for them – but sometimes it’s not possible to come to a mutual agreement without support from a legal professional.
If parents are unable to agree between themselves, or perhaps just need a bit of help ironing out the wrinkles, then mediation is an ideal option. A skilled mediator will help parents come to an agreement that works for everyone, whether that is an informal arrangement or a more formal co-parenting plan, or even just to help them to communicate in a way that makes co-parenting a positive, productive experience for all involved.
When things are complicated, sometimes couples also need a little bit of help from lawyers. Collaborative family law can help parents to reach an agreement and put in place a sound workable arrangement.
In some cases, however, it is simply not possible for an agreement to be reached, and a parent may need to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order which might include a ‘lives with’ (residence) order and/or a ‘spend time with’ (contact) order. A ‘lives with’ order, as you might expect, sets out who children will live with, while a ‘spend time with’ order states when and how much time children should spend with each parent. Many times a Child Arrangements Order sets out the times when a child will live with each parent.
However, before applying for either of these orders you should consult a solicitor to see if there is an alternative way of coming to an agreement with your co-parent. Making an application to the court for a Child Arrangements Order should be your last resort.
If you really cannot agree on these important decisions, then mediation should be your first port of call. The purpose of mediation is to try to help parents work together to make decisions about their children, and keep things out of court if necessary. It may be that you are able to come to an agreement about some issues but not others – or you may find it impossible to agree about anything – in which case some or all of these outstanding matters will need to be taken to court. You will need to prove that you have mediation before making an application so it is worthwhile at least exploring mediation before asking a mediator to provide you will the necessary paperwork to take things further. And if you really feel you cannot attend mediation with the other parent then you will need to attend a MIAM a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, unless you are advised by your solicitor otherwise.
An application to the court should be avoided if possible, unless absolutely necessary – for example if there are safeguarding issues. Not only are such proceedings costly, they are complex and can involve court officers, CAFCASS, social workers and others. The proceedings can also be lengthy and can sometimes take two years or more.
Before anything else make an appointment with your solicitor to discuss your situation and your perspective on what’s best for your children. And, if possible, begin by making proposals to the other parent – either in mediation or with the support of your legal team – as to what the future looks like for you and your children. Often, the main difficulty in these situations lies in communication, and we would always suggest trying out-of-court methods of dispute resolution to help you to discuss things with the support of a legal professional.
However, if things do end up in court, the best approach is to try to keep your children’s well-being and their right to see their other parent – so long as there are no safeguarding concerns – at the heart of every decision. If you and your ex fundamentally disagree about what’s best for your children, the family courts are there to try to make a decision for you. And once a Child Arrangements Order is in place, it often helps to build a framework for future co-parenting.
We know how important children’s issues are to our family clients and we do our best to help parents resolve their relationship disputes, either as mediators or lawyers, as collaboratively as possible. For more information on the options available to visit www.franceslindsay.co.uk and get in touch.