How Do We Make Arrangements For Our Children If We Divorce?

Divorce can be an incredibly stressful and painful process if children are involved.  The key to making the process easier for the whole family is for parents to be informed of the options available.  This knowledge and a willingness to try and work things out amicably between you and your spouse will make a huge difference to how well children cope with divorce.

Unfortunately, misinformation about divorce and arrangements for children is commonplace.  This article aims to provide clear guidance as to how children are treated when a couple divorce, how parents can calmly work out where the children will divide their time and how major family decisions should be made.

The welfare of the child is paramount

One of the fundamental and paramount principles of family law is the welfare of the child.  This means that when deciding on family matters, a judge is obliged to put the best interests of any children involved at the forefront of their decision.

A good family law solicitor will also put the best interests of your children first when advising you on your options during divorce negotiations, mediation, or proceedings.

The basics of arrangements for children following a divorce

The family law system in England is geared towards supporting parents to decide on arrangements for their children between themselves.

There is no predetermined formula for working out how much time a child should spend with each parent.  However, research has shown that two things are very important in reaching a good arrangement;

  1. The child spends time with both parents; and
  2. The child is involved in the decision-making process

The input the child has on how much time they spend with each parent will obviously depend on their age and maturity.

In very few cases do parents end up sharing the child care on an equal basis – as this is often unpractical for many families, and it can be unsettling for children.

If you are able to work out arrangements for your children without the aid of a third party, such as a mediator or judge, it can be helpful to record your decisions in a Parenting Plan.  These can help you, and your spouse avoid any miscommunication and can be referred to if circumstances change in the future and arrangements need to be updated.

Mediation

Sometimes parents, despite their best intentions, need a third party to help them make arrangements for their children following a separation.  In most relationship breakdowns communication problems are the main or a contributory reason. This does, of course, create a major problem when right at the time when the parties find out that their communication problems have led to the breakdown of their relationship they must communicate about a range of issues to disentangle themselves from each other. If you are struggling to agree on who has the children on certain weekends or during the holidays, engaging in the mediation process can assist you in working things out together with an impartial, supportive third party.

During mediation the couple will be invited to sit down with a neutral, highly-trained family mediator who helps the couple reach an agreement regarding who the couple’s children will live with most the time and how often the other parent will see them.

Once arrangements have been made, the mediator will prepare a Memorandum of Understanding and send a copy to each of you.  This is not yet binding, and you can then discuss the outcome of the mediation with your solicitor before making a final decision. If you decide to carry out what has been agreed in the memorandum, you and your spouse’s solicitor will convert the memorandum into a legally binding agreement.

Going to court

There are situations where mediation is not an appropriate dispute resolution method.  This is often the case where the relationship has involved violence and/or sexual abuse.  In such situations, or if mediation has failed to get a couple to agree on arrangements for their children, an application to the court can be made for a Child Arrangement Order.

Before going to court, couples must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) unless circumstances apply which means you do not have to attend. These can include:

  • domestic violence
  • child protection concerns
  • related proceedings being issued in the previous four months
  • urgency
  • disability leading to an inability to facilitate a MIAM
  • lack of contact details for respondents
  • imprisonment/bail conditions preventing engagement
  • non-residency in England and Wales
  • that a child would be one of the prospective parties
  • unavailability of MIAM facilities.

The process for Child Arrangement Orders is set out in the Child Arrangements Programme (CAP).

Once you have confirmed with the court that you have attended a MIAM, your solicitor can serve an application for a Child Arrangement Order on your spouse.    You will then receive a date for a ‘first hearing dispute resolution appointment.’  In this session, the judge will examine the reasons why you have brought the application to the court.  If the matter cannot be settled at this first hearing or the judge requires further information, they will set a date for when further documents need to be filed in court.  A date for another hearing will then be given.  At this hearing, the judge will ask the parties if they can come to some agreement on the disputed matter, for example, who they will live with for the majority of time, and then make a Child Arrangement Order to that effect.

Going to court can be extremely stressful and very expensive.  Wherever possible, a good family solicitor will try and support you in working out the arrangements for your children amicably with your spouse, as this is not only beneficial to you but your children as well.

Bennett Griffin are award winning solicitors based in West Sussex with offices in central Worthing and Ferring.  Our experienced and specialist solicitors offer a comprehensive service and will work with you in an honest, considered and practical manner.  All our family law team are members of Resolution and can advise and assist you in relation to making arrangements for your children following separation.  Please contact us on 01903 229 999 or by email at info@bennett-griffin.co.uk for more information.

The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.