Coming to grips with parenting after parting ways
As we approach the Christmas season, many separated couples will be working through the details of who should spend time with the children and when during the holidays.
The end of a relationship can be an anxious time as there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future. The biggest worries for both parents are likely to be around their children as they come to terms with who the youngsters will live and stay with, when, and how will they continue to have meaningful relationships with both parents and their wider families?
The vast majority of parents are able to reach an agreement themselves as to what the arrangements will be once they stop living together. However, sometimes they may need some extra help by taking legal advice, attending mediation and, in some instances, asking the court to decide what arrangements are in their child's best interests.
I see all too often that the anxiety over what will happen with child arrangements makes the process of separating even more difficult.
Many separating parents think they need to go to court to sort out the arrangements for care of children, but this is not the case.
The court should be a last resort, there to assist parents where they have not been able to reach an agreement themselves, or where there are safeguarding concerns that need to be investigated.
Safeguarding issues could be raised, for example, if there are concerns around a parent's substance misuse, or where there has been domestic abuse in the relationship.
If you are having trouble reaching an agreement with your ex directly then mediation is likely to be a good option. A mediator will help you identify the issues you cannot agree on and try and assist you to reach an agreement.
In the aftermath of a separation, it can seem daunting to think about sitting down with your ex in a room to talk about matters face to face. However, mediation can actually help to improve communication and set the right tone for what will be your new relationship as co-parents.
Getting that new relationship off on the right footing, finding a way to put any ill feelings to one side, and working with one another to support your children will make life easier for everyone. It will also enable you to iron out when children are able to spend time with grandparents and wider family, which can be an issue when couples break up.
Mediation is also a necessary precursor to being able to make an application to the court in most instances. Legal aid is still available on a means tested basis for mediation.
If a court is asked to intervene, it will purely look at what is in the child's best interests, not what either of the parents want, considering the factors set out in a 'welfare check list'.
There is no set formula and no automatic default position as to what the arrangements should be. For the vast majority of families, both parents want their children to have a good relationship with the other and the question of child arrangements is largely determined by practical considerations.
It is important that both parents get to share the fun time with the children, at weekends and at special occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays, and also important that both parents are involved in the more mundane activities, such as making sure homework is done.
Once you and your ex have agreed to separate then you will need to talk to your children about it. Deciding how and when to tell your children can be worrying. If possible, it's best if both of you can talk to your children together and present a united front, reassuring them about the future and making it clear that they are not to blame for the separation.
If you are recently separated, I would recommend you:
- Visit www.resolution.org.uk for information on parenting after parting
- Look at a parenting plan together - www.sortingoutseparation.org.uk has a good option
- Consider mediation
- Seek legal advice if you are unable to reach an agreement, or if there are safeguarding concerns such as domestic abuse or substance misuse
This Legal Expert column was produced in conjunction with the Law Society and published in the York Press on 28 November 2019.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.