How to protect children in divorce or separation
With over 100,000 couples divorcing every year, many families go through a challenging and upsetting time, and this is especially true for children.
Experts agree that in most cases, children benefit from having a relationship with both parents. This is recognised in Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that a child has the right to maintain contact with its parents in the event of separation, unless this is incompatible with the child’s best interests.
How mediation can help
Parents are always encouraged to come to an agreement regarding issues like residency, contact and access, rather than go to court. This is where mediation plays an important role in helping parents work through issues relating to their children, and it is becoming the preferred method to help prevent disputes and resolve issues.
It is compulsory for anyone wanting to make an application to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, to explore whether the parents can resolve their differences and find a solution that works in the best interests of their family.
Developing a parenting plan is a core part of the mediation process and is a written document worked out between parents, after they separate, covering all the practical issues of parenting. It helps everyone involved to know what’s expected of them, it’s a valuable source of reference, and it covers practical decisions like where the child lives, attends school and receives healthcare.
An agreement worked out with a mediator can be made legally binding; once the parents have come to an agreement in mediation, they can then apply to the court for a Consent Order that means the plan will be given legal effect.
Child Arrangements Order
However, if mediation doesn’t work out, perhaps because one parent doesn’t agree to attend or refuses to be bound by the terms of any agreement, then the next step is to apply to the courts for a Child Arrangements Order (previously known as a Contact Order). This will cover who the child lives with, has contact with, and how often and for how long contact visits will be.
Factors the court considers in coming to a decision
The court will take into consideration the wishes and feelings of children, the more so the older they are. The welfare of the child is always the court’s paramount concern, and the factors it will consider include:
- The age, sex and background of the child including any cultural, religious or disability needs
- Their physical, emotional and educational well-being
- How a change of circumstances could affect them
- The ability of the parents to provide the care needed
- Any risk of harm the child might have suffered, or be exposed to in the future.
Following their assessment of this information, the court can make a Child Arrangements Order setting out the living and contact arrangements for the child or children. It can, for instance, order shared residence, meaning that the child would spend a given period with each parent, although the amount of time spent with each parent may not be equal, and could, for instance, be as much as 70 per cent spent with the mother.
If you would like to know more about our mediation services, or are facing issues on divorce, then do get in contact.