A relationship breakdown often means a dramatic change in life for all parties and when parents live apart, arrangements need to be agreed on about how and when children will see each of their parents

It’s more beneficial if parents can decide on arrangements between themselves, since a mutual agreement has a more positive impact on any child’s well-being. This can be formalised by a solicitor to prevent disagreements in the future, but not all relationships are amicable.

If one parent is being prevented from spending time with their child, they might need to apply for a Child Arrangements Order to assist with this.

Where there is a dispute between parents over the time their children should spend with them, it can be helpful to understand at an early stage how the court will consider the child’s welfare” says Jill Wiggins a Partner in the family team at Cunningtons in Braintree. “If each parent can set out their expectations and be realistic about the compromises which can be made, it’s more likely to lead to a positive outcome for the children.Jill Wiggins, Family Law Partner

Your welfare checklist

The Children Act 1989 states that the welfare of the child must be the paramount consideration.

When it comes to welfare, the Act stipulates a number of issues that should be taken into account. It’s helpful to have these in mind, though some will undoubtedly have more prominence in your own family circumstances than others.

The checklist stipulates the following:

  1. The child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings, considered in the light of age and understanding; the older your child is the more weight a court would place on their own wishes and feelings about when they want to see each of their parents. It’s important to ensure any wishes your child expresses are their true feelings and aren’t reflective of what they think you want to hear. Depending on the age of your child, you may decide that they should be spoken to by someone independently, and should be reassured that they won’t be in trouble by saying what they feel.
  2. The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs; both parents need to be mindful of any additional needs their child may have, and how these can be best met. For example, if one parent has typically taken charge of meeting additional medical needs, does the other parent now require some additional support or training to bring them up to speed in meeting those needs too.
  3. The likely effect of any change in circumstances; this will depend on the character of your child and could also be influenced by any additional needs they may have. For example, an autistic child may struggle with a change in their routine. Both parents need to work together to try and minimise disruption to their child and to think ahead as to how changes can be best managed.
  4. The child’s age, sex, background, and any characteristics of which the court considers relevant; an older child will have a different level of independence and needs than a younger child. Arrangements for your children will likely have to change as they grow up in order to continue to meet their needs. Your child’s background can also come into play in what is best to meet their welfare needs, this includes their cultural background. It’s important for them to be given an opportunity to explore and learn about their culture and traditions while growing up.
  5. Any harm which your child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; if issues of neglect or abuse have been a feature or concern, then a careful investigation into the potential safeguarding issues for your child will need to occur. In many of these situations it will be necessary to involve the local social services team. It’s important to be aware that harm can occur to a child through witnessing abuse of another, like seeing domestic abuse in the home.
  6. The capability of each parent to meet the child’s needs; if either parent has any disability or other issue which impairs their ability to look after the child, then consideration will need to be given as to how this can best be overcome so that your child can grow up knowing both parents.

Once you’ve considered these welfare factors, you then need to look practically at how suitable arrangements can be achieved.

This will usually mean trying to agree with your former partner how – and with whom – your child/children should live, and what time they should spend with the other parent.

Talk to us for advice

The family law teams at Cunningtons Solicitors are highly experienced in guiding divorcing parents through to successful childcare arrangements without acrimony.

Contact our teams at Braintree, Chelmsford or Wickford for help finding a way of moving on.

We also offer other matrimonial services, check out our Family Law pages to find out more.

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