Getting divorced…what about the children?

What about the Children - article by Gianna Lisiecki-Cunane for Smart Divorce

When you are getting divorced, one of the big questions is what about the children. If you have young children, one of the most difficult aspects of getting divorced can be working out day to day arrangements for them with your ex.

Keep talking

It is all too easy for resentments to build when you do not see your ex as often as you did when you were together. If the only time you see them is when you are handing the children over, this does not build in much scope for constructive dialogue. This happens especially if your little ones are playing up, which – let’s face it – can happen for no reason whatsoever. It is advisable to arrange to meet without the children being present. Write down what you agree and check you each have the same understanding of the arrangements.

If you are not comfortable meeting alone, consider involving a third party to help facilitate. This could be a family member or friend – although this is a big ask. Alternatively, consider booking yourselves in with a family mediator. They will be a neutral family lawyer or other professional who is specially trained to facilitate discussions and build consensus wherever possible. Mediation sessions can break long-lasting deadlock. Also, you and your ex can use this safe space for working out what you  can achieve together for the benefit of your children.

The law

There are no guidelines or formulas for how children’s time should be divided between their parents’ households. It is recognised that each family is unique and many different factors will go into the mix. The court will not become involved in deciding the arrangements unless there is a dispute over a significant issue that cannot be resolved any other way. However, if the court does have to make a decision, the children’s welfare will be its paramount consideration, taking priority over everything else. Put another way, they will only look at what is in their best interests.

The court has a checklist that it will use to assess where the child’s best interests lie. This includes factors such as the children’s ages, their wishes and feelings if they are old enough to express them. They also look at relevant characteristics of the child, the likely effect of any change, any harm suffered or risk of harm that needs to be managed, amongst other things.

Involvement of both parents

There is also a presumption that it is better for both the child’s parents to be involved in their life. This is the case unless there is strong evidence indicating the contrary. However, this is not a presumption of a 50/50 division of time or any particular way of maintaining that involvement. In most families, where there are no safety concerns, this will mean face to face contact with both parents. They will usually spending time in each other’s households, often but not always with overnight stays. This is not right for everyone and the courts understand that.

The chances are you will not need to go to court. This can be achieved with a combination of face to face discussions, mediation and, if necessary, negotiations through solicitors, . The majority do not. However, the option remains open when there is an issue that divides you and compromise is not possible.

Real life

Very many are able to agree an arrangement without the court needing to impose a decision. The legal framework used by the court provides a background for discussions between parents. However, it will not provide any answers about the practicalities that every parent knows need to be sorted out week in, week out.

Have you thought about…

  • Your respective working patterns and existing childcare arrangements. Will these be adequate post-separation? Could your working patterns be altered to accommodate the arrangement you have in mind?
  • School holidays. An arrangement based on one parent dropping them off at school and the other picking them up needs to be amended during the holidays. Where and when will drop off be?
  • Family holidays. When and where will you go away? Both parents need to consent to trips abroad so work on reaching agreement on destination and duration early. The court is unlikely to be able to deal with a dispute at the last minute, leading to travel plans potentially being cancelled.
  • Stuff. Is the PE kit, car seat and reading book at the right house? If not, how will you get them there? Do each of you have a stock of clothes, toys and other paraphernalia so that your children can enjoy their time at the other parent’s house?
  • Scheduling. So that you each know where everyone is meant to be on a given day, consider a shared online calendar. This could be reviewed regularly to take into account school trips, new working arrangements, holidays etc
  • Looking after yourself. Breaking up is stressful, all the more so where you are parenting apart. Consider building in some reflection time with a parenting workshop. See Cafcass for details of providers in the Greater Manchester area

Above all, try to keep it civilised. If you are struggling to do so and feel you need the assistance of a solicitor, feel free to give me a call. I can give you further guidance or can assist with the negotiations with your ex-spouse/partner. I can be contacted on 0161 828 1883 or gianna.lisiecki@jmw.co.uk

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