Sharing the Caring: Getting the Best Result for the Child when Parents Separate

Jane Bolton
Solicitor at Jones Myers Family Law Specialist

When relationships break down, sharing the care of children can be complex and fraught with emotions.

In the first instance both parents should be encouraged to discuss how best arrangements can be reached to enable the children to benefit from the love and affection of their mum and dad.

Unfortunately direct discussions and agreement between separating parents can be hard to achieve and often this results in there being problems or arguments about things such as travel arrangements, handovers, holidays, and whether the children should stay overnight.

It is at times like this that the support and help of experienced family lawyers can be valuable. Seeing the “other side of the coin”, and learning what is “normal” or seen as reasonable by the Court and other child care professionals in these circumstances can be invaluable and can help with discussions.

Family lawyers can assist in gaining an understanding of what is in the best interests of the children and how other families have overcome and resolved these difficulties with success.

Many difficult situations can be helped by mediation, or through discussions with solicitors, or through solicitor’s correspondence.

Mediation are meetings when an experienced person discusses with both parents the ideas they may have for care of the children and assists them by looking at practicalities and how the arrangements will impact on the children. These open discussions can help both parents to have the opportunity to hear, and listen to what the other parent thinks and likewise are given the opportunity to express how they feel about the proposed arrangements.

Where both parents can talk and reach agreement about children’s arrangements, it usually allows them to have quality time with their children. Doing so helps them both to benefit from resolving a difficult situation with minimal conflict – and ensures the welfare of the children remains a priority.

Unfortunately there are occasions when agreement cannot be reached and one of the parents will issue proceedings to court for a Judge to decide. In these circumstances the application is usually for a Child Arrangements Order, previously known as “Residence” and/or “Contact” orders.

Child Arrangements Orders are final decisions, made by the court or by agreement, which outline what arrangements should take place for a child, ideally for the remaining duration of their childhood. They confirm who a child should live with and the time they should spend with the non-resident parent.

The orders are designed to find a balance between the resident parent who the child lives with and the non-resident parent where they spend time, or if circumstances dictate, can reflect a shared care arrangement.

It is important to remember that a court will always consider what is in the best interests of the child, and the welfare of the child as their primary consideration. In doing so they will take into account factors such as: 

  • The wishes and feelings of the child concerned
  • The child’s age, sex and background
  • The parents’ circumstances and how that affects the day-to-day looking after the children.

Each order will clearly set out the times the child should spend with each parent during the year, including term time, school holidays and significant dates such as birthdays.

It will often also consider other aspects like handover arrangements, transport costs, and who is responsible for transporting the child, or who should or should not be present at a hand over.

In the event of an acrimonious separation, many of these issues can become contentious and disputed and it is advisable to enlist the support of experienced family law specialists who will try and make the difficult process as smooth and as stress-free as possible.

About Jane Bolton

Jane is a specialist in child care law and children’s matters and represents parents, grandparents, children and local authorities in proceedings. A Law Society Children Panel member, her expertise includes child arrangements disputes, care proceedings and relocation.

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