Going through a relationship breakdown can be an extremely stressful time for children as well as parents. Often the child can be in the middle of this. Its important for parents to put together plans for the child at an early stage. These tips will help parents in reaching suitable agreements.
1 – Remember it is a child’s right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. A common misconception by parents is that the law will support their right to have a relationship with their child. This is wrong. It is the child’s right to have a relationship with both their parents. However careful consideration also needs to be given as to any prospective risk of harm posed to a child by having contact with a parent.
2 – Communicate. The majority of cases that end up before the Court are those where communication is extremely poor or non-existent. Parents willing to communicate will always find it easier to reach an agreement. Through working together, parents can have written agreements prepared setting out what they have agreed. Family lawyers can help draw up such agreements.
3 – Build in quality time in the holidays. It’s important that the child gets to spend quality time with both parents. Very often parents forget about the holiday periods and when a weekly arrangement is in place. When the holidays come up the mistake is realised. This is often too late to sort out before the child returns to school. Parents looking to reach an agreement should ensure that holiday contact including all of the school holiday periods, Christmas, birthdays and time on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are included.
4 – Call the arrangement “Shared Care.” The way children orders have been labelled has changed over recent years. Before the Children Act in 1989 there was “Custody” and “Care and control” Then orders under the new Children Act were known as “Residence” and “Contact” orders. Now we have “Live with” and “Spend time with” Orders.
A “Shared care” arrangement is highly recommended because the Courts are also keen to recognise the importance of the role that both parents play in a child’s life. Shared Care does not have to mean a child spends equal time with each parent. It does mean that both parents share the responsibility of the care of the child equally. It has become more popular for the courts to utilise this terminology when putting arrangements in place.
5 – Consider the child’s own wishes and feelings. For any agreement to work parents must take the child into consideration. Older children often will have their wishes and feelings taken into consideration as part of any family order. It is rare that children beyond the age of 12 are forced to be subjected to an order as the Courts recognise that children develop their own interests and friendship groups, which in turn does impact on any arrangements. Even with younger children some consideration must be given. Arrangements where children are showing high levels of distress are likely to end up back in court.
If parents can follow these simple steps they can reach agreements that can benefit both the child and the parents in the longer term.