For separating parents, deciding on arrangements concerning children is often one of the most emotionally fraught aspects of a divorce. Many parents feel concern that they may no longer be able to see their children as much as they would like to or frustration that the child’s other parent might make decisions that they don’t agree with. In more serious cases, there might also be fears about a child’s welfare when spending time with a parent or family member.
When facing a divorce without specialist legal help on children law, it is all too easy to let these fears and emotions dictate your actions in regards to agreements about your children. While this is entirely understandable – divorce is always a difficult time- it can lead to a process which takes more time, money and emotional strain than it needs to and can work against the best interests of your child. It can also lead to unnecessary conflict and the breakdown of relationships which could be valuable to your child’s future.
Expert Guidance and Less Confrontation
Guidance from a solicitor experienced in family law can be invaluable during this process. They can help you to understand your situation from the start and talk you through how a court might be likely to rule in particular circumstances. They can also speak to you about reasonable expectations for an outcome, your rights as a parent and more. This can allow you to enter mediation or negotiation with accurate information and achievable goals in mind.
Family lawyers who are a member of “Resolution” – such as the legal team at Harbour Family Law- are also committed to working through the process in a way that is as constructive and low-conflict as possible. They can help to advise you through discussing these challenging issues with your spouse in a calm way that prioritises the welfare of your child above all else. When a resolution is reached in this way, effective co-parenting relationships can often be preserved and everyone can move forward with a clear idea of how the family dynamic is going to function in the future. This stability can be incredibly important to children during what is likely to be a turbulent period.
Supporting Initial Conversations with your Spouse
When it comes to making child arrangements, there are three broad topics which must be agreed on. Within those topics, however, there are many other considerations.
Where the child/children will live
Are you going to try shared care, or would the child feel more stable living with one parent most of the time? Who has enough space for the child? What distance will the child need to travel to move between parents and how will this be achieved? Will all children in the family live in the same place? How will the child get to and from school and activities?
How and when the child/children will spend time with both parents
Is there a certain routine you can both stick to when it comes to spending time with the children? What rules do you want to put in place around indirect contact? Are you in a place in your relationship where you could still constructively spend time as a family now and then? What will happen during birthdays or religious holidays? How will you communicate with each other if arrangements need to change?
How the child/children’s needs will be paid for going forward (Also known as Child Maintenance)
How will you divide costs for the children’s everyday needs like food and clothes? What about larger purchases such as holidays, birthday presents or equipment for activities? Will the parent the child lives with most of the time receive regular payments from the other?
Generally speaking, if these decisions are able to be agreed out of court, the chances of parties being obliged to attend court at all during the divorce are much slimmer, meaning everyone can save time, strife and money. Your children are likely to have their own opinions too, and these should be taken into consideration during discussions, particularly if they are older. However, it is important to never make them feel as if they are being forced to choose between their parents and decisions may sometimes be made against their wishes but for their best interests.
You and your spouse might be able to agree on some of these questions without any external help, but others may cause more conflict, or there could be unusual circumstances to consider, which you would like more advice about. In this case, a family solicitor can help with recommendations and ensure you are prepared for the various avenues future negotiations can take you down. Family law experts can also suggest using resources such as a parenting plan, which can help you to consider aspects of your future co-parenting dynamic that you may not have thought of. This avoids unexpected issues coming up later and disrupting either the divorce process or the flow of your family’s routines later on.
Guiding you through Mediation and Negotiation
Divorcing couples can sometimes be sceptical about mediation. Some don’t see the use in talking more when discussions have failed to produce a resolution so far, some mistakenly believe that it’s a process more like couples counselling which aims to rebuild the marriage. However, we’ve found that a few sessions with a qualified mediator can often facilitate constructive conversations that come to a working agreement, even if talks before this didn’t go as you would have liked.
Mediation can be done in person or online and involves both parties spending a session with an impartial third party- the mediator. In some cases, the mediator may also spend some time talking to the children too. This professional will listen to all sides in an unbiased way and encourage calm discussion which is centred on the issues at hand. Although they will listen to any concerns, the focus will be on the best possible outcome for the children at this point rather than on what happened previously in the marriage. A benefit of mediation is that it can help parties to understand each other better and lay a good precedent for future discussions about parenting, but the goal is not to mend the relationship, but to come to a workable agreement for all.
A good family solicitor can help you to prepare for mediation sessions and talk with you about what you can expect from the process. They may also be able to recommend a particular mediator if you would like suggestions. Outside of situations such as domestic abuse, it is legally necessary to engage with the mediation process before going to court. Although mediation is much cheaper than court proceedings, there is a cost, so it makes sense to try to spend the sessions as productively as you can.
If you aren’t able to agree on everything through mediation, or it is inappropriate for your situation, further negotiations can begin. This is a point where having a solicitor trained in collaborative law is a distinct advantage. Whether it’s through correspondence or face-to-face discussions with your spouse and their legal team, they will be able to help you stand firm in promoting your child or children’s best interests while keeping negotiations as dignified as possible.
If your spouse’s solicitor is also trained in collaborative law, you may decide to make a commitment that you will negotiate and agree on all child matters outside the courtroom. This can be a benefit as the decisions regarding your child will feel more under your control and parties can often be more likely to adhere to an agreement they made themselves. As previously mentioned, this can also help to save everyone involved time and money and will mean your child is likely to avoid being the centre of a court case that may affect future relationships.
Involving Other Professionals
An experienced family solicitor will know when help from additional professionals can benefit your case and your family. Sometimes family or individual counselling can support families through a difficult period and help them to make legal decisions in a clear frame of mind. In other circumstances, it may be advisable to make contact with family support services to ensure a child is able to have contact with family members in a safe way. Many solicitors can also recommend barristers they have had positive experiences with if court proceedings are necessary.
Preparing for Court Proceedings
Sometimes going to court is necessary for the best interests of the child. Your solicitor can work with your barrister to prepare a case designed to give you and your family the best possible outcome. Using the same solicitor throughout the
negotiation and court process means that they will have a thorough understanding of all aspects of your case and why the result is important to your family. Solicitors can also advise you throughout the proceedings and help you to understand what certain decisions may mean for the future of your family.
Advice in Special Circumstances
Solicitors are often called to assist in cases that fall outside the usual model of divorce. Examples of this could be if the child or children are part of an unconventional family structure, if the child is binational or if regulated contact with a family member may be necessary. In these cases, it can be difficult to find reliable legal information yourself and you may feel unsure of your rights as a parent, what the precedent is in your situation and whether a court is likely to rule in your favour. A legal expert can help you to understand your options and plan a route forward which is right for you and your children.
If you would like to arrange an initial consultation with a member of our divorce solicitors and specialist family law team in Bristol, please do not hesitate to contact us on T: 0117 3751780 or E: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The news articles and blogs contained on this website do not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While Harbour Family Law aims to ensure that the information is correct (for England & Wales) at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. You therefore acknowledge and agree that Harbour Family Law Ltd accept no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss of damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of our website to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.