We know that separation and divorce can be a stressful and emotionally challenging time for all involved. It is a situation where children can feel in limbo between their parents so seeking advice and guidance on the various options available to best deal with child disputes is paramount for the health and wellbeing of your family.
Whether parents are amicable or whether the separation presents complex issues, at Wollens, we have a specialist team with a wide range of experience and knowledge to support you and your family. Carly Woods is a Paralegal in the Family Team at Wollens and has prepared this useful guide.
Initial advice meeting
We always recommend an initial advice meeting with a solicitor. This will help you understand how issues arising may be dealt with, your rights and responsibilities as a parent, useful guidance on separation. It will also manage your expectations moving forward. Any advice will be child focussed , with the aim of reducing any conflict which they may have been exposed to. A solicitor can prepare letters on your behalf if needed setting out proposals for child arrangements. It may also be worth having a parenting plan in place, setting out future arrangements.
Family mediation can be the next step in trying to resolve issues surrounding child arrangements. This is certainly recommended, if suitable, before issuing proceedings because it can encourage families to resolve issues without going through the Courts. The benefits of mediation are, less stress, family focussed and a non-bias approach. It encourages co-parenting, which in turn can reduce stress and conflict, as well as help improve the health and wellbeing of the child/children.
In some cases, such as where domestic abuse is a factor, mediation may be deemed as inappropriate. The decision is made by the mediator whether mediation will benefit the family. They will give you a certificate known as a MIAM Certificate which you will need for the next stage of the process. Even though the aim for mediation is to seek resolve in child disputes, parents do not need to attend together. Mediation can take place virtually or in person and parents can be seen by the mediator separately.
Applications to the Court
If Family mediation is deemed not appropriate, your lawyer can make an application to the court to issue proceedings for a Child Arrangements Order. Depending on the complexity of your case this process can be on-going between 6-12 months on average. We understand that the process can be a lengthy one and at Wollens it is our priority to advise and support you through each stage, offering advice and information and being on hand to answer any questions. Within our family team we have our own experienced advocates on hand to represent you.
If you are worried or have questions about mediation, one of our family specialists can provide information for local mediation services.
First and foremost, the Court will consider what is in the best interests of the child. They do this with the support of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS). Their aim is to work with families and children during family Court proceedings. CAFCASS are there to ensure the child’s voice is heard. Once they have spoken with the child/ren and parents, they will advise the Court of their findings and make recommendations of the next steps.
Recommendations made by CAFCASS
Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP)
This is a course that helps parents to work together on how best to support their child whilst going through separation. It involves advice on managing conflict and how this is put into practice. Whilst it is a course aimed at parents working together, you do not need to attend together. The advantages of SPIP is encouraging parents to develop agreements without the need for Court intervention.
A SPIP can be directed at the First hearing or on the recommendation of CAFCASS. If your CAFCASS Officer recommends that SPIP may benefit you, they can refer you before the First Hearing. If this happens, it can potentially save you time and money of going through the Court process. There is no charge to attend if you are referred by CAFCASS. The focus of SPIP is to look at parent communication, emotions and the effect of the separation on you and your child/ren.
The Family Wizard app
What is it? An app with separated families in mind. It is designed in a way that parents can exchange information about their child/ren without any conflict or animosity. This ensures both parents have an equal insight in to their child’s life. It is used to simplify communication, with a family planning calendar, message board, journal, expense log and information bank where both parents update any medical appointments or health conditions of the child.
Anyone in the family including grandparents can be added. There is a cost for using this app but it should outweigh the cost of Court intervention.
For information on Child Maintenance please follow the link to the HMRC website where you can find more information and apply.
Orders made by the Courts
Shared care Order
This means that in circumstances where the Courts find it is the child’s best interest to live with both parents, it will work with the parents to decide what days the child will spend with the other and cover things such as timings and handovers.
Live with spend time with order
This means that a Court may decide it is the child’s best interests to have one parent as the main care giver, whilst spending select days or hours per week with the other parent. In complex cases, the time spent with the other parent may be supervised under a trusted body or contact centre. Although, there is an initial presumption that a child should grow up with a relationship with both parents, the court will make decisions based on findings in the case. The welfare of the child/ren is paramount and there may be relevant safe guarding considerations
A non-molestation Order is something that a person can seek if they have been or are at risk of harm. During family proceedings for example if there is domestic abuse among parents, a non-molestation order may be applied for on an urgent basis before making an application to the family court to deal with child arrangements. This Order is only issued under certain circumstances as an emergency remedy. The aim is to protect the victim and children from any harm.
Special Guardianship Order (SGO)
An SGO may be Ordered in scenarios where parents are unable to care for their children due to complex issues they may have. It is the authorities and Courts aim to keep the child/ren within the family. It is recognised that children having an association with their family can positively impact on their emotional and physical well-being. For example, if grandparents are taking care of their grandchild under a fostering placement, an SGO may be recommended for that child. This can give the child a sense of belonging and stability. For more information on SGO’s, please call our Family Team.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an undertaking?
Sometimes parents can give undertakings to the court during proceedings which will then be specified in the final court order. It is essentially a promise made to the court that you will or will not do something. Although it is not legally enforceable, if the promise is broken, it gives the Applicant scope to take the matter back to Court to be addressed.
What if the other parent doesn’t comply with the order?
If a person breaches an order of the family Courts an urgent C2 application can be issued. This application enables counter claims to be bought into existing proceedings allowing the new information to be considered.
What if I cannot afford the process?
The cost of the Court process can be daunting and may seem unmanageable. At Wollens we have a range of options to assist you through the process. We will work with you to establish your needs and make a plan based on your individual case. We understand that separation and children disputes often require urgent advice, so our aim is to assist you in all aspects, giving you clear, constructive and informed advice, as well as payment options.
Is an SGO right for us?
Where it is not possible for children to live with either parent, a family member may wish to consider an SGO. The Family member would work with the Local Authority and devise a Special Guardianship plan to establish whether it is in the best interests of the child and whether it is manageable for all involved.
What law governs a Child Arrangements Order?
The Children’s Act 1989.
Can I get Legal Aid?
There are certain criteria you must meet for legally aided funding help. One of our family law specialists will ask you a series of questions during your initial call to determine whether you would meet the criteria and what evidence you need to provide for this. We cannot give a definite answer until we have reviewed all evidence.
If you need assistance with a child dispute or advice relating to separating where families are involved please contact us for an initial consultation.
For further information, please contact Carly Woods, Paralegal in the Family Team 01803 225164 or email [email protected]