Separated parents: Making arrangements for your children.
Parents who have separated or divorced will inevitably have to have discussions and make arrangements for their children moving forward. This may include where your children are going to live, and who the children will spend time with. As with any discussions, there can be disagreements. Your children will be the most important consideration for you, so these disagreements can become emotional and stressful. This guide will give you key information and useful tips if you are in this position.
How should we discuss arrangements for our children?
When making these important decisions for the future, parents will usually try to come to arrangements individually. These discussions will be difficult, but it is not impossible to come to an agreement. Some top tips for communicating effectively with each other are:
A) Control your stress levels
- Monitor your breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed.
- Take a break if things are getting too heated.
B) Make sure you are listening
- Practice active listening rather than just hearing. You can do this by listening to what is being said – without interrupting – and then summarising it back to the other parent to show you have listened and understood their point.
- Take pauses before responding. Think about what has been said.
- Ask questions. Sometimes the answers might be different to what you thought!
C) Be non-confrontational
- Manage any urge to interrupt – bite your tongue.
- Use calm language, do not blame or criticise.
- Remain centred on the subject (arrangements for your children) – resist bringing up past incidents or faults/blame.
Parents may involve their children in these discussions, particularly if they are older children.
If parents engage in legal proceedings, they will find that the Courts would take the best interests of the children as the paramount consideration, which means (amongst other things), that their wishes and feelings are taken into account. This is a practice which parents could try to adopt in their discussions. Speak to your children, be open to their views, listen to them. Some top tips for talking to your children are:
- Explain to your children what is happening and reassure them it is not their fault.
- Make sure your communications are child-focused. Use easy language and avoid bringing in adult themes to the conversation.
- Reassure them that they can speak to you about what is happening whenever they wish to.
- Avoid arguing or making critical statements of the other parent in front of them.
- Be mindful not to pressurise your children – you should give them the opportunity, it is their choice if they want, to engage.
- Never ask your children to choose between parents; instead ask your children how they feel about the separation and what they would hope to happen.
Ways of engaging your children in the discussions will vary, and as parents, you will know your children better than anyone else. Sometimes an open conversation may not be the most comfortable forum for your children. In these circumstances, you could ask your children to write down how they are feeling, for example. Your children will likely be feeling lots of emotions and uncertainty about the separation – some things that they may want to know are:
- Where am I going to live?
- Where is our dog going to live?
- Can I still go to school?
- Will I still see grandma?
- Are we still going to Spain together this year?
When answering these questions, you should refer to the top tips above. A key point is to reassure your children that it is not their fault and that they will be loved by both parents no matter what.
What do children need when going through divorce or separation?
A problem that you may face as separating parents is that your children will think it is their fault. They may think that they have done something wrong, which only increases the emotional toll for them. It is important that as parents, you give your children the opportunities to discuss the future for the family and to be reassured that things are going to be OK.
Every child is different and will need different things during the separation journey – however, here are some things to bear in mind:
- Children should be informed about what is happening and what the changes will be.
- Children should know that they are not responsible for the separation.
- Children should be reassured that it is normal to feel lots of different emotions and that you are there to talk about them if they need it.
- Children should be encouraged to know that both their parents will continue to love them no matter what.
- Most importantly – throughout the separation journey, children should be allowed to be children.
Whilst these are some of children’s needs when going through separation, there are also things that children do not need, such as:
- Hearing arguments between their parents, particularly if these are heated and involve blaming.
- Being pressured to choose between either parent.
- Hearing negative criticism of either parent.
- Being used to communicate between either parent.
- Hearing information about the separation that is adult and not child friendly. A good example would be information about child maintenance.
What should we do if we can’t come to an agreement ourselves?
Sometimes parents may need support in coming to an agreement. This usually results in the involvement of a third party. Many parents may think that they will need to make an application to Court for the decision making to be put into the hands of a judge. This, however, is a last resort option. Before doing this, you should engage in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – particularly Family Mediation.
Family mediation is a method of coming to agreements after divorce or separation. In the family mediation process, an accredited and trained family mediator will support both parents to come to agreed arrangements relating to the care of your children. Your accredited mediator is an impartial individual, who will never take sides or make decisions. They also are not marriage counsellors, so their role is not to try and reconcile your romantic relationship.
Family mediation is incredibly useful in coming to arrangements, as it gives you a safe forum with intervention to talk things through. Your mediator will help both of you to discuss the sticking points that you are struggling to agree on. Your mediator can support you to explore how you could reach an agreement. Mediators cannot provide you with legal advice and they will never tell you what to or what not to do. They can provide you with legal information, however, and will always support you both in having productive communications.
Family mediation is far less time consuming, less stressful and less expensive than going through the Courts. However, sometimes cases may be unsuitable for mediation. This is most commonly where there has been domestic abuse or serious safeguarding concerns. At your first meeting with your mediator (the MIAM, see below), your mediator will assess the case for its suitability and will discuss with you if they think that mediation is not suitable. Remember, all discussions at mediation are confidential and are not shared with anyone. Confidentiality is only breached if there are safeguarding concerns or issues relating to criminal activity.
The first step to engage in family mediation is the MIAM. MIAM stands for Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. The MIAM is an individual appointment between yourself and your mediator. The purpose is an exchange of information so that: 1) you can understand mediation and make an informed decision as to whether you want to mediate, and 2) the mediator can get an understanding of the case and assess the suitability.
Whether you choose to use family mediation or make a Court application, you will need to attend a MIAM. The Court will require you to evidence that you have attended a MIAM, or to evidence that you are exempt from doing so. If at the MIAM you choose not to proceed to mediation (or indeed you engage in the mediation process and mediation breaks down), you will be provided with a MIAM certificate that enables you to make an application to Court.
The costs of family mediation vary from practice to practice. At Direct Mediation Services we operate with a fixed rate of £120 (inc. VAT) per person per hour. This is done on a pay as you go basis, so can be worked around you. There is funding available for mediation through Legal Aid, which you can apply for if you receive welfare benefits (such as Universal Credit), or a low income. For further information you should contact the office on 0113 468 9593.
Going to Court
To make an application to Court you will need to complete the C100 form and specify the order(s) which you are seeking. There are three types of Court orders that you can apply for:
- Child Arrangements Order – this is one of the most common orders that our clients are seeking. It relates to where your children are to live or with whom they are to spend time with, and for how long. It can also cover arrangements for your children to spend time with third parties, such as grandparents.
- Specific Issue order – as its name suggests, this order is applicable where the dispute regards something specific. This is usually relating to the raising of your children, such as their education or religion.
- Prohibited Steps Order – This order is used to prevent the other parent from doing something in relation to your children without the express permission of the Court. Commonly these orders are used where one parent wishes to take the children abroad.
When you go to Court the decision-making of the case will fall into the hands of the Judge. The Court will attempt to support you in reaching an agreement yourselves so far as is possible, but if you are unable to do this then the Court will make a decision.
The Court can take a number of approaches, which are very much dependent on the case they are hearing. However, regardless of the case the Court will always take the best interests of your children as their number one consideration. An order will be based on what is best for your children, rather than based on what you want as a parent.
You should ensure is that the C100 application form is filled in correctly. You can fill out the C100 form yourself; there is no requirement for a lawyer to do this. Of course, many people choose to use a solicitor to do this; however, it can be financially difficult to secure a solicitor for legal advice and representation. There are other services available for completing your C100 form such as the Family Court Application Service (FCAS), or the charity Support Through Court. You may also be able to get support through your local Citizens Advice. If your C100 application has inaccuracies or mistakes then this can cause delays to your case.
Some key legal terms
Abduction – Where a parent takes their child outside of England and Wales without permission.
Applicant – This is the person who makes the application to Court.
CAFCASS – The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. You can read more about CAFCASS here.
Contact centre – This is a neutral and safe place where a parent can spend time with their child.
Contested hearing – This is a specific hearing where there is a dispute as to evidence presented to the Court.
Direction hearing – This is a hearing in the early stages of your case where a judge will decide how the case will be handled moving forward.
Ex parte – This is also referred to a “without notice” hearing. It means that only one of the parents are present at the hearing.
Final hearing – This will be the hearing where the judge will make a final decision as to the case.
Indirect contact – This is any contact with your children that is not face-to-face. This includes letters, video calls, text messages etc.)
Interim contact – This is any contact which happens between the first hearing and the final hearing.
Litigant in person – This is a person who comes to Court without a solicitor or advocate.
Litigation – This refers to the Court proceedings.
McKenzie Friend – This is a person who can come with you to Court to provide support, such as note taking.
Parental responsibility – This refers to the legal rights and responsibilities a parent has for their child.
Primary carer – This is the person who will have provided most care for the children. The Court may also refer to this person as the “parent with care”.
Residence – This refers to where the child lives.
Respondent – This is the person who receives the application and responds to it.
Section 7 report – This is a report that is completed by CAFCASS. It will specify recommendations based on CAFCASS’ enquiries throughout the Court proceedings. This report can also be referred to as a “Welfare report”.
Shared child arrangements order – This is a term to describe an arrangement where the children will spend time living with each parent rather than with just one. This does not necessarily mean there will be 50/50 equal time, the amount of time will depend on the best interests of your children.
Going through separation or divorce is a difficult time in and of itself. As parents, there is an additional layer to this as you will need to consider your children and their wellbeing throughout this journey. This guide will hopefully have given you some helpful tips in navigating this journey with a particular focus on how to do this in a way that works best for your children. If after reading this guide you would like to engage in the mediation process, or would like further information on mediation and how to start it, then please contact our office on 0113 468 9593. We are here to help.
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Frequently Asked Questions
My ex-partner is preventing contact with my children and won’t speak to me – what should I do?
This can be a difficult situation to navigate. The first thing you should do is attempt to send a written letter to your ex-partner via recorded delivery explaining that you would like to resume contact with your children. You could include in the letter that you hope to resolve the matters yourselves, but will consider mediation if you are unable to do this. By using recorded delivery, you can be sure that the letter arrives. If you do not get a response, or receive a negative response, then you could consider using mediation. If mediation fails, then you can make an application to Court.
How much does mediation cost?
The cost of mediation varies depending on the firm or mediator you use. At Direct Mediation Services we operate on a fixed fee pay-as-you-go basis of £120 per person per hour. There is funding available via Legal Aid for mediation relating to child arrangement if you receive welfare benefits or a low income. In addition to this, there is the Mediation Voucher Scheme, however, this is dependent on government funding.
Do I need a solicitor to make an application to Court for a child arrangements order?
No, it is not a requirement to have a solicitor to advise or represent you. Whilst it is useful to receive legal advice on these issues, many parents go to Court as “Litigants in Person” (which means you are going to Court without a lawyer). This can be difficult, but is not impossible. There is support available through various organisations including Support Through Court, Citizens Advice, and McKenzie Friends.
How much does it cost to go to Court?
The standard fee for an application to Court for a child arrangements order is £232. Costs will then increase by quite a lot if you have legal advice and representation as you will need to pay solicitor fees. You can waiver the court fee if you qualify for Help with Fees (if you receive benefits or a low income). Legal Aid is not readily available for child arrangements applications, but you may be able to qualify for legally aided legal advice if you or your child have been a victim of domestic abuse.
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