Going through a separation can be one of the most stressful times that a couple has to go through. When children are involved the stress is amplified.
It is important when going through a separation that parents alert themselves to the feelings that their child(ren) may be having such as:
- A lack of security
- A lack of resilience
- Feelings of Loss
It is important that parents keep this in mind when considering contact arrangements. There may be various strains when trying to agree the arrangements but it is important that children do not pick up on this.
When approaching an agreement, parents need to keep the following questions in mind:
- How can we protect our children?
- How best can we communicate with each other?
- How and what we should tell the children?
- How are they likely to react to the news of our separation?
- What do we do about money?
The Court’s primary focus is what is in the child’s best interests as the Court must consider a list of criteria in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989, known as the welfare checklist. The welfare checklist includes the following:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of age and understanding)
- Their physical, emotional, and educational needs,
- The likely effect on them in any change of circumstances,
- Their age, sex, background and any characteristics of theirs which is relevant,
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering,
- How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting this needs, and
- The range of powers available to the court under this act in the proceedings in questions.
A child centred approach is therefore essential Parents can either reach agreements themselves using tools like the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) led Parenting Plan or alternatively they can seek the assistance of Solicitors which can include devising a Parenting Agreement.
The benefit of a Parenting Agreement is that it empowers parents to set out in detail not just the arrangements for contact but also how issues relating to the children are going to be dealt with. It gives both parents a sense of co-operation and ultimately aims to deal with what is said to be in the children’s best interests in the longer term.
This in turn will help to minimise any impact of the separation on a child and will help improve the parents’ relationship in general. An agreement can either be informal or can be sent to the Court to be made into a legally enforceable order.
Parents can also attempt a process called mediation where they work with an independent solicitor together to reach an agreement. Again that agreement can be made legally enforceable if they choose.
Mediation is a significantly cheaper process than a Court application and there is in certain circumstances funding in place to assist with the costs. It is a requirement for parties to have attempted mediation before attending Court. Mediation can be undertaken by a solicitor, who is qualified to deal with those matters, or by a mediation service.
At FDR Law we are able to provide our clients, at an early stage of separation, with the key information that they need in order to be able to move forward with an agreement for the benefit of their child(ren).