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Following a couple’s separation or marriage breakdown in some cases the children of the family are placed in the middle of the parental dispute. The children may be used against the other parent as bargaining power or they may simply stop contact between the children and the other parent through anger. This will make the children feel torn and caught up in their parents’ anger, which over time will impact on the individual child and their emotional and developmental needs.
When a relationship breaks down, parents will need to try to reach an agreement on the child arrangements and put their own feelings to one side. They will need to decide where the children will live and how often each parent will see the children. The time the ‘non-resident parent’ spends with the child is also known as contact. Contact is the right of the child, not of the parent or any other person. Contact between a parent and child can be direct, in other words face-to-face contact, which can include contact during the day or overnight contact. Contact may also be indirect, such as telephone and video calls, e-mails, letters and gifts.
In law, the child has a right to a relationship with both parents. Where the child lives and how much contact the other parent will have with their child will depend on what is in the child’s best interests. Some parents have contact everyday whereas others may have contact just during school holidays or once a year, for example if there is a distance between them. Some parents have a shared care arrangement, shared weekends or have the child on alternate weekends and holidays so that both have some extended time with their child. Parents who work shifts may have complex arrangements to accommodate their work patterns. Reasonable contact will differ from family to family.
If parents cannot decide between themselves on child arrangements, they should always be encouraged in the first instance to try family mediation. They will be expected to do so before making any application to the Court. The aim of family mediation is to lessen conflict and to try to resolve disputes amicably and in the best interests of the children. Family mediation takes place in the presence of a trained mediator who is a neutral third party. The role of the mediator is to assist the parents to communicate with each other and to reach decisions about their children. For more information about mediation, read our previous blog post, here.
Usually, parents are able to agree on child arrangements. If this is not possible and mediation fails then Arbitration can be an alternative to court, which involves a decision being made by a qualified Family Arbitrator dealing in children matters. As a last resort, one parent can apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order. The final order makes clear who the children shall live with and who they shall have contact with, how often this will be and how long the contact will be for. Going to court can be a stressful and expensive experience – it is a ‘last resort’. Before making an application for an order, parents should seek legal advice. It is possible for a parent to make an application themselves, but there are advantages to being represented by a Family Solicitor who is a member of Resolution. They will know and understand the process and procedures and can help reach agreements and give practical advice.
Sousa Law can offer Family Mediation and Child Arbitration services. We can offer advice to clients prior to making any applications to court and on the court process and what to expect at each stage of the proceedings. We can correspond directly with the other parent and try to negotiate child arrangements. We can assist with drafting court applications, statements and documents in readiness for court hearings. This advice can be tailored to meet your needs.
By Kim Walsh
Sousa Law are specialist Family Solicitors in Southampton, and we are committed to offering a helping hand during difficult times. For further information or advice, please call us on 02380 713 060, or email email@example.com book a free initial consultation with a solicitor.
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