by Gemma Hope, Senior Associate, Solicitor & Collaborative Lawyer at Family Law Partners
Parenting when you are not in a relationship with the other parent can be very challenging. When parents can’t agree it can be tempting to some to want to rush to court and have a judge make a decision for them. However, it is best if parents can work together to sort out the arrangements for their child between themselves, without the need for any formal legal action to be taken.
When trying to work out parenting arrangements you must take into account the following factors, known as the Welfare Checklist:
- The wishes and feelings of your child in the light of their age and understanding;
- Your child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect on your child of any change in circumstances;
- Your child’s age, sex, background and any other relevant characteristics;
- Any harm which your child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- How capable you and the other parent, and any other relevant person, are of meeting your child’s needs.
The law no longer refers to concepts of ‘Contact’ (previously known as Access) or ‘Residence’ (often referred to as Custody); these matters are now referred to as ‘Child Arrangements’. The rationale behind this is to move parents away from placing labels on parenting roles to bring greater focus on practical issues of the day to day care of the child. When determining the arrangements for a child the law sets out that the paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child. There is a presumption that the involvement of both parents in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare. Courts now want parents to take responsibility for parenting rather than relying on the court to determine every issue. They want to do this to try and make the arrangements work and the emphasis is on using non-court based resolution options.
So how can you try and work out disputes over parenting without going to Court? Here are some options:
One Plus One, a UK charity, has created an online tool that can help you create a parenting plan, their website also provides short videos and suggestions to help parents think about the most successful way to communicate, negotiate and solve problems: https://www.splittingup-putkidsfirst.org.uk/home.
The national governing body for family lawyers, Resolution, has lots of use information on their website for separated parents: https://www.resolution.org.uk/divorceandparenting/.
Family consultants are therapeutically trained and understand the psychological and emotional difficulties faced by parents who are separated, and the impact this has on their children. They increase insight for the parents and bring clarity to difficult situations to reach decisions. Formulated agreements are then more likely to endure, benefiting the whole family, instead of allowing strong emotions, or unhealthy patterns of behaviour to result in games, blocks or impasse.
A mediator can meet with both parents together to help them reach an agreement. Mediators use their skills to help manage and facilitate discussions and resolve disputes. You can take legal advice and / or have the assistance of a family consultant alongside the mediation process.
This is a process that can be used by parents to find solutions to issues that arise when couples separate. Each person has their own lawyer and you all meet together in the same room to work things out face to face. You have your lawyer by your side throughout the entire process and therefore benefit from legal advice as you go. You make a commitment at the outset not to go to court.
Arbitration is a quicker, less formal, confidential, cheaper and more flexible way of determining a dispute than if matters are taken through the Court system. An Arbitrator is appointed who will make a decision that will be final and binding. Lawyers can be instructed to support, advise and represent you throughout the process.
If you are unsure of your options or what might be the best way forward meeting with a lawyer, who specialises in family law, would be beneficial for you. It is best to meet with a lawyer that is a member of Resolution as they will be committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes and will follow a Code of Practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems and encourages solutions that consider the needs of the whole family and in particular the best interests of children.
Whichever process is used here are some top tips to help make things go smoothly:
- Take care of yourself
You need to look after yourself to enable you to be there to support your children. Eat, sleep and exercise regularly. It’s normal to go through a huge range of emotions when separating including denial, anger and sadness. If these emotions become overwhelming seek professional help from your GP, counsellor or therapist.
- Manage and redefine your relationship with your former partner
You may have every right to mistrust and hate your former partner, but you have a responsibility to make sure your children have the opportunity to grow up having a positive relationship with both of you. As much as you may want to cut your former partner out of your life the reality is if you have children together that is not going to be possible, you will still need to have a relationship – all be a different one from what it was – going forward. You may find it helpful to handle issues with your former partner in a business like manner. It can be useful to think about how you would want the situation handled if the roles were reversed.
- Deal with conflict in a way that will not detrimentally effect the children
It is often not the parents’ separation that causes damage to children, but the way the parents handle it. Help your child learn about respecting others by showing them that you can have a respectful relationship with their other parent. Avoid making personal attacks on your former partner that judge, criticise or assign blame to one another. Find a constructive way of addressing issues related to the separation instead of hanging on to the anger and hurt, moving on is important for both you and your children.
Despite what many people think a separation doesn’t have to be confrontational and involve a lengthy and costly court battle. It is possible to separate in a way that minimises the impact on the children and helps create a foundation for a positive co parenting relationship going forwards.
Gemma Hope is a senior associate, solicitor and collaborative lawyer specialising in family law at Family Law Partners. Gemma is a member of Resolution and has a specialist accreditation in dealing with children matters. Family Law Partners are a niche law firm specialising exclusively in Family Law providing legal advice, collaborative law, mediation (with a mediator who is qualified to see children within the process) and arbitration.