At Blanchards Law we see children as being the central to our client’s cases, but that does not mean that they should be involved in adult conflict. Too often we see a tug of war between the parents where a mother, for example is withholding contact to a child by the father for one reason, or the father for instance is not paying child maintenance to gain something else. This is just horrible for the child who is in the middle of all of this, and most often feels that they are somehow at fault for the breakup in the first place.
Here are some tips that we would give to parents who are separating:
- Sort out what is happening to the children before you start talking divorce or financial split. If you go to court for your financial settlement, and the children matter is still unresolved, the judge will postpone the money case until you have.
- Custody, visitation and access no longer exist. The courts now view Parental Responsibility as most important: that is that both parents share responsibility for their children’s upbringing, and should consult each other about issues such as schooling, religion and medical treatment. This is supposed to mean that both parents have an equal say in these matters, but in practice, judges still think that the parent with whom the child lives for most of the time has the casting vote.
- Custody has been replaced by residence and access by contact. The courts are moving much more now towards the European/Australian model of shared parenting. This does not mean however that parents are entitled to an equal split of the child’s time. The courts view this as the child’s right to have contact and a relationship with both parents, however that is achieved. There is no concept of ‘father’s rights’ or ‘parenting rights’.
- Think about an out of court settlement; such as going for mediation or resolving your dispute through collaborative law. We have both a mediation and collaborative law service here. Mediation is probably the cheapest way of achieving a financial settlement. It is only when you really have exhausted all other possibilities that you should go to court. Having a judge decide on such issues for you really is a last resort.
- Do continue to make child support payments even if you are in a dispute about contact. You will only alienate the judge later on if you do not.
- If you are looking for ‘Grandparents’ rights’ you will need to make an application to court for contact if this can’t be agreed with your Grandchild’s parent (s).
- The judge will look at the list below to decide what is best for the child. This is called the ‘Welfare Checklist‘ and includes such matters as:
- the child’s wishes and feelings, taking into account his age an understanding;
- the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances;
- the child’s age, gender and background and any other characteristics
- that the court considers relevant;
- any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- the ability of each of the child’s parents of meeting the child’s needs,
- or the ability of any other person of doing so if the court considers it
- relevant; and
- the range of powers available to the court.
Contact dos and don’ts
- Do tailor the contact arrangements to suit the child. The younger thechild, the shorter but more frequent the contact visits should be.
- Don’t shift the child from one parent to another every few days for contact. Your child needs to have stability and may start to act up and resent the arrangements.
- Do try to involve the children in the contact arrangements, As long as they are old enough, and ensure that they are aware of when they will be spending time with the other parent.
- Don’t let your child down by being late or missing contact, unless it is unavoidable, in which case do ring the other parent immediately you know there is a problem. Do put a smile on your face when you are picking up or dropping off your child, even if you don’t feel like it. Don’t involve your child in your dispute with the other parent. Do give your child permission to enjoy their contact.
- Do take up whatever contact is offered to you, and then work onincreasing it. It is more important that contact happens and becomes established, rather than insisting on the ‘principle’ of what you want. Don’t ever show your children court documents or solicitor’s letters, or try to involve them in the court proceedings. Judges and other professionals view this as a form of emotional abuse.