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How To Sort Out The Arrangements For Your Child

News24th October 2019

The breakdown of a relationship is rarely absent of pain and high emotions. We, as your mediation solicitors, know this perfectly. For whatever the reason your relationship has come to an end, there will often be strong feelings towards your ex, including bitterness and resentment. In the hurt that follows a breakup, it might be difficult to think objectively about the practical arrangements of unpicking what was previously your shared lives. This becomes especially so when thinking about the arrangements for your children. Understandably, decisions about child arrangements post-separation can often cause separating couples the greatest level of anxiety and can become the source of a great deal of hostility.

So, what might be the best way to avoid tensions escalating? Firstly, it might be helpful to know exactly where you would stand in terms of law and family mediation.

The law considers it to be an integral part of parental responsibility that parents should work to put aside differences and ensure that their children have a relationship with both parents. Mediation solicitors witness this every day.

The law also states that if the court is asked to make an order about where a child should live and with whom that child should spend time, it is to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that the involvement of both parents in the life of the child will be in the best interests of that child.

This means that when looking at living and contact arrangements with a child, the starting point for the court will be to treat the parents equally unless persuasive evidence can be given to cause the court to do otherwise. That’s why you should care about mediation to see your child.

If asked to decide about the living and contact arrangements of the children, the court will have at the absolute center of its decision-making the best interests of your children. To put it bluntly, the court will not care about your breakup, what your ex did, or your personal feelings about your ex however justified those might be. Unless that behavior is something that you can prove would have such a negative effect on your children as to mean the court should depart from the presumption of equality. And by the negative effect we are not talking simply unpleasant, we are talking serious emotional or physical harm that is likely to happen.

Add to this the fact that the court process is often lengthy, involving delays, and will almost always prove expensive. You will not necessarily get what you are asking for and you might, in fact, get far less than you hoped. It also often has the effect, psychologically, of setting up parents in a ‘win or lose’ mentality, meaning that the process becomes competitive, rather than collaborative.

Finally, before the court will even look at your application for a court order it will expect you and your ex to have attended a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). There are certain prescribed exceptions to attending MIAM. If you do not qualify, the court is unlikely to even consider your application until you can prove, with a certificate of attendance, that you have attended MIAM.

All the above works both ways, for both parents.

In short, when deciding upon child arrangements post-separation, it is very much in both parents’ best interests to look at the court as a very last resort option.

So, what to do instead?

If you are still able to sit in the same room as your ex, the best thing to do is to sit down together, somewhere neutral, and discuss the future arrangements together. Mediation solicitors are the people who help in the process. Try to do this as early as possible to meet the demands of the new situation. Try to be objective and try to be fair and always keep in the front of your mind what your children would want and what will be best for them.

Cafcass has a Parenting Plan template that can help you to work through and clarify the arrangements (www.cafcass.gov.uk). You can print out a Parenting Plan and work through this together with your partner and your mediation solicitor.

Draw up an agreement that sets out as clearly as possible the child arrangements that you have agreed. This should help set clear expectations and, if appropriate, boundaries, and this will hopefully reduce future misunderstanding and conflict. This agreement will not be a legally binding document. If you are concerned about that and want something formal, then you can ask the court to turn your agreed child arrangements into an order. However, the law requires that the court must first consider whether an order is necessary for the child, the “no order principle”, and if the arrangements are agreed, it is possible, unless there is good reason, that the court will refuse to make an order on the basis that the no order principle applies, and it is not considered to be in the child’s best interests to make the order.

If you do not think that sitting down with just you and your ex is likely to be productive then arranging a meeting with a qualified family mediator could help you to resolve your difficulties.

If emotions really are too high between you to really be able to come to an agreement, even with a mediation solicitor, then it might be sensible to instruct a family solicitor to assist with drawing up an agreement. A solicitor can act as a buffer between you and their advice might help draw the emotion out of the situation and help to steer you in a direction that will provide the best outcome for everyone and, in particular, the children.

Do not forget about you in all of this either. The idea of having to work collaboratively with someone who has caused you pain is likely to be galling, upsetting, infuriating and feel deeply unfair. These are normal and natural feelings. Surround yourself with supportive people, speak to your GP about counseling or other treatments, contact helplines such as Relate. Sorting out your child arrangements post-separation will likely be an emotional process and it will be sensible to best equip yourself mentally. It will benefit you and, ultimately, your children.