When a relationship breaks down and you have children one of the most important issues that arises is the parenting arrangements for the future.
Children can also be very concerned about how a separation will impact their relationship with each parent, their schooling and their own friends and relationships, so we are here to support the whole family to reach a joint decision.
For more information and to make an appointment at our Southampton office, please contact Debra Emery.
For Richmond and City appointments please contact Jan Galloway.
The terminology has evolved over the years, with the courts seeking to reflect both parents' roles in their children's lives. What used to be referred to as 'residence' and 'contact orders', are now termed a 'child arrangement order'. This defines the time the children are to spend with each parent.
Parenting arrangements - out of court
Parents are encouraged to keep parenting arrangements out of the court and to deal with such issues via alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation. The children’s views are very important and if you can find a way to agree this between you as a family, that is by far the best way.
Parenting arrangements - through a court
If you have to proceed with a court application we are here to support you every step of the way. We will help you to complete all the necessary forms and paperwork and make sure all factors are considered, such as the amount of time grandparents want to spend with their grandchildren.
The court will list a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment. If there is a serious dispute between the parents, the court can appoint a CAFCASS Officer (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Officer) to prepare a report on what is in the best interests of the children. That report can usually take between some 12 to 18 weeks to secure. The court will usually attach a lot of weight to the recommendations of the CAFCASS Officer and many cases settle on the basis of that report.
For the few that do not, the matter proceeds to trial where evidence is given by both parents, the relevant witnesses and any experts instructed. The presiding judge will make an ultimate decision as to the arrangements for your children.
Many parents in dispute find it helpful to establish a Parenting Plan. This sets out in detail how you both will deal with issues, including communication between you and your partner, child safety, who your children live, how your children communicate with you both when they are and are not under your roof, the specific child care arrangements and the funding of your children.
Separated parents' information programme
This is a short group programme where you, as a separated parent, learn and discuss how to best parent your children on separation. There are a number of programme providers and the court frequently directs parents to attend such courses as part of any court application.
Generally, child support is not dealt with by the courts and parents are encouraged to reach their own agreements as to how to fund their children.
If you are unable to reach an agreement, you can approach the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC), previously called the Child Support Agency. This can be quite complicated but we are here to help. Please contact us if you would like additional information, but the guidelines state:
The sum varies and takes into account a number of factors, such as the number of children you have and the time they spend with the paying parent. The CMEC calculates your annual gross income based upon the latest information filed at HMRC and converts it into a weekly figure for payment.
If the paying parent’s income is in excess of £3,000 per week, the receiving parent can apply to the court for what is referred to as a 'top up order'. Also if the paying parent lives abroad or your child has special needs, then the court can again make orders directing the quantum of the payments to be made.
Payments under the CMEC continue until the child is 16 or up until the time when they finish secondary education or the equivalent to A level.
School and university fees
If your child is at private school, you need to arrange how to fund that cost and is separate from child maintenance. Payments are usually made directly to the school.
Child maintenance orders cover the time until your child reaches 18 or ceases full time secondary education. It is therefore important to address the funding of your children should they attend university (referred to as tertiary education) now. A university fees order can cover the funding of the fees charged by the university, which includes a 'home element' also referred to as a 'roofing allowance', for the parent with whom the child lives during the university holidays.
Financial claims on behalf of children
As part of the financial settlement upon divorce/dissolution of a civil partnership, claims in respect of the children are dealt with as part and parcel of the claims between the spouses/civil partners. For example, the parent with whom the children will make their main home will seek appropriate housing for their benefit and that of the children. Certain lump sum payments can be made on behalf of the children for discrete special needs such as computers, furnishings, dental treatment, etc. Child maintenance has been dealt with above.
As an unmarried couple you can make financial claims on behalf of your children under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. Such claims can include child maintenance (if the jurisdiction of the CMS is exceeded) which can also include an element of child carers’ allowance for the parent with care; lump sum payments for discrete expenses on behalf of the child and a settlement of property order. It is important to note however that any 'settlement of property' made under this Act places an obligation upon the paying parent to provide a home for the child and the parent carer until the child is 18 or ceases full time secondary education (although the parties can agree between them to extend the period) after which the property then reverts back into the ownership of the paying parent.
Same sex couples
The law surrounding same sex couples is very complex and constantly evolving as the reforms catch up with advances in medical science. If your same sex relationship has broken down, your partner who is treated as a legal parent can be responsible for maintaining your child. This is a very specialised area of law and there are a limited number of specialist counsel who advise on such situations. Please contact us for more information.
Parental responsibility enables a father or legal parent to acquire rights and responsibilities in respect of your child. It is acquired in one of three ways: either as a result of the father being noted on the birth certificate, agreement between the parties as a result of which a parental responsibility agreement is drafted and registered appropriately, or via court order. As a parent with parental responsibility you have the right to be involved in the major decisions concerning your child’s life, such as where they are educated, their religion, the name by which they are known, and one can give authority for medical intervention.
It is not unusual in this day and age for one parent to move abroad upon a separation. This can be devastating for the child and the parent left behind. Many parents do work together to sort out how their children will maintain the relationship with each parent and how much time they spend with them in the holiday periods for example.
There are cases when parents cannot agree to the proposals and you need to take legal advice and court action. The welfare of your child has always been the court's primary concern. A child has the right to have a relationship with both parents and a move abroad will have an inevitable impact upon the family. Our family law solicitors have considerable experience of dealing with international relocation applications and more detailed information is available here.