Contact arrangements for children need to be considered early in the separation process.
Separating parents will naturally have concerns about the effect their separation will have on their child and particularly how it will impact on their child’s relationship with their parents.
Where parents have not been able to reach agreement over the time children spend with each parent or where their child should live, the family court can step in and determine arrangements for children, providing the child is under the age of 16.
When family proceedings do go before the court, the welfare of the child will always be the Court’s paramount concern. The Court’s starting point is that it is in a child’s best interest to spend time and have a positive relationship with both parents as research shows that this provides the best outcomes for children, so long as there are no safeguarding factors which could put the child at risk.
Assessing the child’s wishes
The court will often ask the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (commonly known as Cafcass) or the Local Authority to investigate matters further to help the court decide what is in a child’s best interest. If the children involved are older, childcare professionals may speak with the child to find out information about their views. This is done sensitively to avoid children feeling they are in the middle and to make sure that children don’t feel under pressure to be the decision maker or like they have to choose between their parents. A report will then be prepared for the court which is very influential in assisting the court to determine what arrangements are in a child’s best interest moving forward.
Amending a child arrangements order
A child arrangements order is a starting point for parents to build on for the future as family circumstances generally change over time as children’s needs alter as they grow up. Court orders can always be varied by parents agreeing changes together, indeed courts are keen to encourage parents to work together in this way as co-operative parenting produces the best outcomes for children. Conflict is very harmful for children and the courts encourage parents to try and avoid conflict as much as possible. Parents are generally the people who know their children best and are therefore best placed to make arrangements to best meet their children’s needs.
Extended family members
A child’s close relatives – grandparents, aunts and uncles, are also able to apply to court for a child arrangement order, however, they must first apply to the court for permission to make the application. This is to ensure that children are protected from unnecessary court proceedings due to the harmful effect of conflict upon children.
Children in care
If the Local Authority are involved with your family, or your children live with someone other than their parents, different provisions may apply.
If you would like to discuss contact arrangements for your child you can speak to one of the experienced solicitors in our children team in complete confidence and without further obligation. Call 01302 320621 or email firstname.lastname@example.org