The care and welfare of your children is always the primary concern in any divorce or separation.
Mostly, parents are able to agree the best arrangements, but it is quite usual for there to be conflict over particular aspects (e.g. what nights of the week visits are to be made or holidays) and, occasionally, there is major conflict over the children’s care and welfare. Even minor disagreements cause distress and can rapidly escalate.
With us, matters relating to children are recognised as requiring particular specialism and sensitivity in their handling.
All members of our team are specialists in child access issues but, in addition, we have particular specialism in relation to child welfare, protection and jurisdiction disputes.
Here are some general guidelines, by way of introduction:
- It is often assumed that children will live with their mother whilst all a father can hope for is to have the children every other weekend. This assumption is wrong. The Courts now believe that the children should spend as much time as possible with each parent so far as circumstances and welfare issues allow.
- If you can agree arrangements for your children these do not need to be embodied in a Court Order.
- If you cannot agree child arrangements the Law requires that you try, firstly, to resolve issues by attending mediation (which your solicitors will arrange). If mediation doesn’t work the next step is a Court application. Before making a decision the Court will usually require a report to be prepared by a Children’s Welfare (CAFCASS) Officer, who will speak to the children alone, as well as the parents, and then prepare a report direct to the Court. In cases of serious concern over child welfare the Court may order additional, independent reports from, for example, psychiatrists and doctors.
- At any time either parent may approach the other to renegotiate child arrangements and, failing agreement, may seek mediation or a fresh Court Order. Child welfare orders are never set in stone.
- Once living and access arrangements have been agreed or ordered by the Court, neither party is allowed unilaterally to change those arrangements. It is important to remember this, since life circumstances can change: your working days and hours may change or you may have to relocate out of the area.
- The party wanting to change arrangements must first provide to the other party the proposed new arrangement and reasons for that arrangement for possible agreement.
- If agreement is not forthcoming the arrangements can only be changed by a Court Order.
- Without express agreement or Court Order, you must not unilaterally change arrangements.