Making arrangements for children: child’s play?

Many families stay together “for the sake of their children”. We may all have a view of how beneficial this is, but there is no doubt the fear of not spending time with children on separation is a major issue for many people.

But making arrangements that work, ensuring each parent is a reliable presence in the life of their children is easy to say, but in practice what does this look like?

For starters, there is no formula for how much time children “should” spend with their parents, nor who they should live with. The law does not make any assumptions here, and there is no presumption in favour of one parent over the other. In fact, quite the opposite is true; unless there is a good reason, the law assumes each should play a part in the lives of the children. Being unreliable or bad with money, or indeed forming a new relationship are not reasons to suspend or modify child arrangements per se.

Often, parents fall into the trap of considering different parenting styles as a reason to prevent their son or daughter seeing the other parent. Generally, this is not the case, and issues which centre on the adult relationship must be shown to impact on the child arrangements in order to be relevant.

Clearly, what is appropriate must reflect the reality of children’s lives and take account of their needs, which as we all know, change as time passes.  Unlike financial settlements, there is no permanent arrangement that can be made, although a court can make a final order if one parent makes a court application. Parents separating with pre-school aged children will have to navigate many permutations as their son or daughter grows, whereas parents of teenagers face an entirely different situation.  Each is treated according to the needs of the child.

If an arrangement is made, it should be followed unless there is a good reason. Having a school activity, party or football training to go to is not reason enough to alter this. Successful arrangements involve two conflicting principles: certainty and flexibility. The key here is not the law, but the relationship between the parents and the extent to which they can communicate effectively.

If you are separating and cannot make arrangements that work, the first professional you should contact is a therapist, or divorce coach. It’s vital that your “stuff” about the relationship ending is dealt with as soon as possible, regardless of whether the other person does the same- it will help you see the situation with greater clarity.

Of course, there are cases where a solicitor needs to be involved immediately, sometimes if only to give you a sense of how the law would apply to you and discuss the detail of what should happen. But if one parent is refusing to discuss or make any arrangements or saying they are going to relocate, it is wise to deal with this immediately.

If you need further help, or wish to speak to one of the team you can contact us.

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