Children and Separation: top tips for coming to an agreement
US reality star Kendra Wilkinson has recently announced that she is divorcing her former sport star Husband and has said that her immediate priority is focusing upon her children. Minimising the impact of separation upon children is of course a major concern for all separating parents and making decisions about such things including the time that they will spend with each parent may be the most pressing issue that needs to be dealt with.
The general position is that the court will not become involved in making arrangements for children unless there is a specific dispute between parents that cannot be resolved. Therefore the onus is on parents to try and come to an agreement themselves and these are our top tips to help you:
- Structure your discussions around the needs your child: Whilst it sounds obvious, in practice focusing solely what works best for your child can be a very difficult thing to do in the immediate aftermath of a difficult relationship breakdown. It involves putting to one side all of your thoughts about the other person and what they may have done. The court describes the welfare of children as their “paramount” priority when deciding what arrangements should be made. In the vast majority of cases, the court would say that it is in the best interests of each child to have a full relationship with both of their parents.
- Avoid involving the children directly: whilst the children’s wants and needs should be taken into account, this should be done in a way that avoids involving them in any disputes between the two of you (which the court deems to be “adult issues”). Children should not feel under pressure to choose between their parents or subjected to negative views about either parent and this is something that the court is particularly critical of. The courts expect parents to actively encourage children to have a good relationship with the other parent.
- Communicate: parents are expected to be able to communicate on a day to day basis about all of the day to day information about their children, but you can explore whatever method best works in your situation. Face to face communication is not always productive or possible in the face of a separation and if so, parents can often find text message or email to be a better method. Another option that is used in court proceedings is a communication book that passes with the child on contact which can set out important information (for instance about medication, diet, sleeping patterns or school matters).
- Be realistic: the thought of spending any time apart from your children can understandably be very upsetting some parents and the temptation can therefore be to push for the children to be with you for the maximum possible time. However, think realistically about what your work and other commitments allow for in the longer term for instance, if you realistically have to work late several times per week an equal division of time arrangement may not work for you. Likewise, if your child has a health condition where routine is particularly important, a routine that involves a large amount of home moves in a short space of time may not be in their best interests.
- Be flexible where you can: one of the advantages in coming to your own agreement rather than having the court impose an arrangement upon you is that you are able to have much more flexibility about what this might look like and this can work to everyone’s advantage.
- Consult about the important decisions: both parents have the right to be fully involved in the important decisions that impact upon a child’s life, including choice of school and health matters. Most schools will offer separate parents evenings for parents who are not together and will ensure that both parents are kept up to date with important issues relating to education. You might want to inform the school early on about the separation so that they can ensure that this is done, and also so that they can work with you to ensure that they can be sensitive to any needs that your child may have at that time. Where decisions have to be made, it can help to discuss this at the earliest possible opportunity in order to provide the maximum time possible to get any issues resolved.
Schools or medical professionals should not however be used as a method of communication between parents and where there is an issue, legal advice should be sought rather than relying upon the third party to do that.
- Plan ahead: it can help to put together a plan for where the children will be spending their time well in advance so that there is sufficient time that any dispute can be resolved in advance. It can be useful to agree a plan with a calendar at the beginning of each calendar or school year to set out the usual day to day patterns of where the children will spend their time, arrangements for school holidays, provision for extended holiday time with both parents and what will happen on special days.
- New partners: the introduction of new partners to children can often be a very sensitive issue for everyone. The reality is that one or both partners will move into a new relationship at some point, and the court’s general position is that it is up to each reasonable parent as an individual to decide when and if it is the right time for the children to meet that person, so long as that does not cause a welfare issue for the child. In order to avoid potential issues, and to ensure that the children are properly prepared for this, it can be best to discuss this introduction and how it will be handled with the other parent in advance of the introduction and for this not to be done too quickly after the separation.
- Special days: The thought of spending birthdays or religious holidays without your children can be especially. From a legal standpoint, it is generally thought to be in a child’s best interest to experience spending special days with both parents. One option is to alternate certain special days each year. Where distance allows, it might be possible to physically split the day (for instance Christmas eve and morning with one parent and Christmas lunchtime to boxing day with the other).
- Get help if you need it: it may not be possible to come to an agreement without some independent help. If there are issues that you cannot resolve between you, solicitors can help to navigate a way through those matters before an application to court is required. There are also a number of charitable organisations that can help with the impact of separation generally, such as Gingerbread.
For further information about separation or an aspect of family law please contact our experienced and specialist family law solicitor, Denise Moran via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone:
Wilmslow 01625 544650
Knutsford 01565 648228
London 0207 947 4219
Manchester 0161 804 8441