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Pitt-Jolie divorce highlights the tricky issue of child arrangements

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It goes without saying that divorce is exceptionally stressful for all concerned, especially when there are children involved, and relations can soon break down. According to today’s newspapers, Angelina is reportedly after physical custody of all of their children, while Brad will only get visitation rights. But with new research (read more here) suggesting that children fare better when they spend time living with both parents, how likely is Angelina to become sole guardian of their brood?

Whether you’re a Hollywood actor or not, separating from a spouse or partner is one of the most stressful times in a person's life. Although the majority of parents will have thought long and hard about how they’d like things to work, with emotions running high, sorting out child arrangements can seem overwhelming. So where to begin? Jane Young at FDR Law outlines advice on how families can reach the best solution for everyone involved…

Following an overhaul of the family justice system in April 2014, we have the new Child Arrangements Order which replaces the separate residence and contact orders of the past. The new Order aims to alter the perception that one parent is more important than the other and focuses on both parents continuing to have important involvement in the child’s life ‒ as long as it is safe for them to do so and there are no safeguarding issues which could compromise the welfare of the child and which would need investigating. It sets out who the child is to live with and how much time they will spend with the other parent, and when. This means coming up with an agreement that everyone is happy with.

But what if this is just too difficult? After all, Angelina’s decision to file reportedly had to do with her dissatisfaction around the way that Brad was parenting their children. If this is the case, getting expert help will mean a positive solution is reached much more quickly and with far less emotional distress. Lawyers can work as a bridge between the parties, encouraging a constructive dialogue in reaching the best solution for you and your child whilst protecting you from unnecessary pressure. They can sort out a non-confrontational meeting, in which they will advise you on the legal aspects.  Although this involves paying for their expertise, it is an advisable approach in difficult divorces. 

If that doesn’t lead to a satisfactory arrangement, the next step is mediation. Government changes mean this is now mandatory before the court can become involved. Mediation is a totally confidential and impartial service which takes place in the presence of a trained mediator whose role is to lessen conflict and to try to resolve the matter amicably. The outcome of mediation isn’t legally binding so you may require some parallel legal advice as well but if you can reach an agreement during mediation it should remove the need for drawn out, costly and often stressful legal action.

The alternative is a court application where a judge will have the final say and make the decision of who your children will live with and how much time they will spend with the other parent, for you. A court application really is a ‘last resort’ as it is not only costly but also causes unnecessary upset and trauma for you and your child.

But don’t panic, it doesn’t have to come to this. There are many out-of-court options and a specialist divorce lawyer who also specialises in private Children Law will assist and advise on the best process for you and your family depending upon how much and what kind of assistance you require. 

Whatever decision Angelina and Brad come to, let’s hope that they put their children’s needs first.