If you have a dispute arise about when a child should see the other parent in circumstances where you are not living together, the Children Act 1989 sets out the relevant law and procedure. There used to be talk of “custody” but it was considered that made parents feel they were losing to the other, so there has been a change to the language used and the legal system has now settled on the terminology, “child arrangement orders”.
If you are currently in the process of a divorce or separation which involves children, the arrangements for the children are likely to be at the forefront of your mind. It’s important during this time to learn as much as possible about your legal parental rights, and as experts in family law, we are here to help you navigate this complex subject, while also keeping things as amicable and stress-free as possible.
Most disputes concerning children usually arise between parents, although there are also times when they will involve grandparents or another adult who has been caring for the children. Whatever your circumstances, legal representation will help you to obtain a result which is in the children’s best interests.
When organising who will spend the majority of their time with the child (or children), or seeking to alter these arrangements, it is always important to first try speaking to your former partner or spouse. There are occasions during which you may be able to come to an amicable agreement without the need for legal intervention – however, we do recommend seeking legal advice even when choosing this route.
The reason we suggest talking to a solicitor is that even if you do not need to pursue any form of legal action, it is still helpful to better understand your rights. Your family law solicitor will also be equipped with the specialist knowledge needed to help you phrase the question(s) you want to ask in the best way, avoiding potentially inflammatory statements or demands.
Talking to a professional is also the best way to begin proceedings such as mediation and can often help you avoid court. While court cases are sometimes necessary, they are also stressful for all the family affected by the break-up.
Changes to an established agreement
If you have already agreed on terms and they are now not working, they can be reassessed and some changes made. This could involve altering when you see the child or children for example or the frequency of these visits. It may also involve a third party, such as a trusted grandparent or mutual friend, who can help to further mediate alongside your legal guidance.
Financial support for children after a separation
There are several areas which are assessed when deciding on the correct actions for living arrangements and childcare. The salary and the relationship of each parent with the child (or children) are noted and assessed, though both parents will be considered to have a monetary responsibility for the child, regardless of the amount of time they spend with them.
At present, there are laws which state that if a parent receives income support (or any other government-funded financial assistance), they will require additional authorisation to access child support from the second parent. If this is not done, then the parent receiving government benefits will receive 40% less financial help for three years.
In cases where the parent who is caring for the child does not receive either government or parental support, the case should be settled in court and a decision must be made about how much each party can contribute. Child support is monitored and arranged via the Child Maintenance Service in the United Kingdom.
Arrangements for over-16s
With the exclusion of exceptional circumstances, in most instances, the court will not become involved in child arrangement disputes relating to a child over the age of 16. It is therefore important that in these instances, you work to arrange the matter amongst yourselves. Be sure to consult carefully with the child or children in question, considering their practical and emotional needs.
Whilst separations are stressful for all involved, the children at the heart of the dispute may feel powerless and torn between their parents or guardians. Be sure to provide the space for them to talk about any issues surrounding the separation openly, as this is more likely to lead to a positive resolution for all parties.
When you cannot agree
If you have tried to remain civil with your ex-partner and yet find that no resolution is being reached, you will be able to make arrangements for visitation or access via the court system. As previously stated, be aware that this usually only applied to children under the age of 16.
When you are locked into an ongoing dispute, it is best to keep a note of all circumstances relating to access. For example, jot down any times when your ex-partner has not stuck to the terms of your agreement or has otherwise inconvenienced you after an established set of terms were decided upon. Keeping a diary is a very useful way of gathering evidence and it will also assist you in both a court case and mediation arrangement. The same information will also help your legal expert to help you in a more meaningful, targeted way.
If you feel unsafe
There may be circumstances where your former partner makes you or the children feel unsafe. In these cases, it is important to seek help immediately, rather than waiting for a potentially lengthy court case. Women’s Aid and Refuge are both superb forums to discuss your concerns, and men who have been affected by domestic abuse can also contact the Men’s Advice Line for guidance and personalised assistance.
If you want to know more about your legal rights when it comes to where your children live and/or any domestic abuse in the home, please contact us on 020 3601 5051.