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Separation can be tricky to navigate, whether you are married, in a civil partnership or living together. But when there are children from the relationship, things can become trickier – it can often feel more emotional and there are other people’s feelings and wellbeing to consider.

   

Every child will react differently to their parent’s separation and much will depend on the age that the children are at and how much of the breakdown of the relationship they are exposed to.

   

For more information on protecting your children whilst you go your separate ways, please see our popular article ’10 Golden Rules For Protecting Your Children During Your Separation’.

   

Agreeing on Child Arrangements

 

Quite often when couples split, they have conflicting opinions on what the arrangements for the children should look like. This can cause a great deal of stress and feelings of anxiety, as deciding arrangements for children and contact with each parent is often at the top of both parent’s priority list.

   

It is important to try to remain calm when having these discussions with an ex-partner. Heated arguments will not help to move the conversation forward. It is crucial to put the children’s best interests at the heart of your discussions along with being fair, reasonable and practical. Agreeing to arrangements that are too complicated or you are unable to fulfil will only lead to further disputes and changes which can be unsettling for the whole family.

   

A good starting point for child arrangements is to look at the CAFCASS Parent Plan. This will set out some of the practical aspects of shared parenting such as contact, communication, finances and education.

   

If you are having trouble agreeing on child arrangements, then this is where some professional assistance from a solicitor may help. You can apply to the courts for a Child Arrangements Order. This document will set out who has responsibility for the child, their living arrangements and regular or agreed contact. Typically this is a regular pattern of contact and some specific arrangements for special days such as birthdays and Christmas, but it can be tailored to reflect your family circumstances. The welfare of the child will always be the court’s first and primary consideration when making an Order for Child Arrangements.

   

It is not uncommon for separated parents to agree on arrangements which seem to be working well, but then run into problems later down the line. When a new partner arrives on the scene or circumstances change for one or both parties this can lead to disputes about child contact and it becomes necessary to make an arrangement which is enforceable.

   

Facts About Child Arrangement Orders

 

Who Can Apply? Child Arrangements Orders can be applied for by a parent, guardian or special guardian of the child, a spouse or civil partner, someone with parental responsibility, someone with a residence order or someone who has lived with the child for over 3 years. Grandparents that do not meet any of that criteria would need to apply to the court for permission to apply first.

   

Application Process: To apply, you would need to first attend a MIAMs (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) appointment and obtain a signed from a Family Mediator. You can then complete a C100 form and send this off to the family courts with a court fee payment of £215. Once the form has been received both parents would be invited to a First Hearing. In between the application and the court hearing, each parent will be contacted by a CAFCASS (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) officer.

   

Is it Binding? A Child Arrangements Order is legally binding and if one or both parents breach the order then they could be fined, receive enforcement orders or even be imprisoned (although this is extremely rare). If an order is not being stuck to or needs to change due to changes of circumstances or the child growing older and the arrangements no longer suiting, then this can be agreed between you. It is sensible to apply to the court to vary the arrangement so that these changes are formally recorded and enforceable; this will provide security and peace of mind.

   

How Long Does it Last? Unless agreed otherwise, a Child Arrangements Order will continue until the child reaches 16.

   

Separated Parents pushing young child on swings divorce and family legal advice

How Can A Family Lawyer Help?

 

A family lawyer can give you guidance and assistance with the paperwork, ensure that you understand the legal terms and the likely outcomes.

   

Where there are issues such as:

  • allegations of abuse;
  • parental alienation;
  • risk of abduction;
  • unlawful retention of a child; and
  • time sensitive disputes concerning relocation either international or national
 

a lawyer will advise you on how to expedite your application, so it is heard in court on an urgent basis. Depending on the issues concerned, your lawyer will be able to advise you on the best way to present your application, what evidence you will need and what criteria you will need to satisfy to give your application the best possible chance of success.

   

Where matters are more amicable, a lawyer can help you negotiate with you ex-partner to find an arrangement you are both comfortable with and have that arrangement endorsed by a court, this is a consent order. A consent order is a type of child arrangements order.

   

You are not alone in the process when you have lawyers in your corner, they can attend court with you to ensure you understand the process, procedure, and legal jargon.

   

A solicitor can also help you make arrangements for other aspects of your separation including your divorce, finances and property.

   

Benefits of a Child Arrangements Order

 

Having a Child Arrangements Order in place can give both parents some peace of mind. It can help you organise your life, being able to plan ahead and have a regular schedule of contact. Following an Order in place will also profit your children, particularly younger children, as they will benefit from some stability and routine.

   

It can be particularly useful for separated couples where there is a history of arrangements not being honoured or one parent being unreliable when it comes to keeping in contact with the children.

   

Seeking Legal Advice

 

Now that children have returned to schools and nursery it is much easier to make contact with a solicitor to discuss your separation.

   

If you are looking for advice on child arrangements or the particulars of your divorce /separation then please get in touch with our specialist Family Law Team who can talk you through the process and inform you of where you stand.

   

Call us on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant. We offer a Fixed Fee appointment which is a good starting point for anyone looking for advice in relation to their separation or arrangements for children. This appointment will help you to gain understanding of the options and potential outcomes and help you grasp the best route forward for your family.

   

Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

10 Golden Rules For Protecting Your Children During Separation

Talking to Your Teenager About Divorce

Introducing a New Partner to Your Children

Taking Parental Alienation Seriously

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.