The solicitors at Higgins Miller specialise in family law. This means that we help people to deal with highly stressful life events such as divorce, adoption, wills and probate and interactions with social services. It also means we’re ideally placed to offer children legal advice. The children legal advice we offer is designed to help achieve the best possible outcome for our clients and their children when a relationship breaks down. We know from working with clients just how difficult and emotionally draining dealing with the end of a relationship can be, whether it’s a marriage, co-habitation or civil partnership, with intentions to deal with things in an amicable manner often falling by the wayside as tensions rise to the surface. Our children legal advice is always designed to remove as much of the conflict from the situation as possible, by combining up-to-the-minute legal expertise with emotional support and a calm and collaborative approach.
When it comes to the children legal advice we provide the emphasis is always placed firmly on the welfare of the child. Although we work to protect the rights of every client, children legal advice is always framed in a way which places the safety and well-being of the child at the heart of everything. In the vast majority of cases, the children legal advice needed will be based on the need to decide which parent the child will live with, and what arrangements will be made for them to spend time with the other parent. In addition, there will have to an agreement reached in terms of matters such as how much financial support will be provided by the parent who is not living with the child.
The question of where a child is going to live, and with which parent, used to be referred to as child custody, with one or both parents seeking that custody. The process of coming to an agreement on where a child will live is now called Child Arrangements or if there is a disagreement, Child Arrangement Disputes.
Although our children legal advice is always intended to reduce the conflict involved in any separation, and resolve all relevant issues through a process of negotiation and agreement, we fully understand that there are times when this won’t be possible. In cases such as this our legal expertise comes to the fore, and we’ll offer detailed advice to clients on the Orders that a court might be able to issue. These include the following:
- A Lives With order – this sets out which parent the child will be living with
- A Spends Time With order – an order which details how often the child will spend time with the non-resident parent
- A Shared Care order – this is an order which determines that the child will split their time evenly between both parents
The children legal advice we provide is offered in a clear and calm manner which avoids legal jargon and sets the facts out in a concise and easily-understood manner. The Child Arrangement process moves forward through three stages, with each subsequent stage only being needed if the previous stage has proved unsuccessful.
The first stage of the process is the creation of a parenting plan. This is a document drawn up by both parents, detailing aspects such as where the child is going to live and with which parent. The parenting plan will also detail how much time the child will spend with the non-resident parent and possibly other issues such as where the child will be educated, how their physical and mental health and well-being will be maintained and how the question of financial support will be addressed. Our children legal advice will enable parents to include everything which is relevant within a parenting plan, while our experience will guide them to reach an amicable agreement which is fair to all parties and – most importantly – will be easy to deliver in practice in the future.
Although a parenting plan is not legally binding, it can be turned into a legally binding agreement through a court order. This can happen because both parents want the plan to become more formal, or because one of them has not followed the agreement. Formalising the plan may make it more likely that both parents will stick to agreements on issues such as the amount of financial support provided and the time the child will spend with each parent. Working on the basis of children legal advice from our experts will help to ensure that any parenting plan agreed upon will be acceptable to the court and will stand up to any challenge in the future.
If parents are not able to come to an agreement on a parenting plan then the next step could well be mediation. While this may not be suitable for those cases in which, for example, there has been domestic abuse or abusive behaviour toward the child, even acrimonious splits can be taken through mediation if the independent mediators ‘shuttle’ between the two parents in separate rooms. The role of the mediator is to act as an ‘honest broker’, adopting a neutral stance and helping each parent to grasp the issues being raised by the other parent. If communication has broken down following a separation, mediation can be an excellent means of facilitating negotiation and gradually working toward a solution acceptable to both parties.
If mediation fails to achieve a breakthrough our children legal advice will be that a Child Arrangements Order has to be applied for; Section 10 of The Children and Families Act 2014 states that mediation needs to have been attempted for this to take place, unless there are suitable mitigating circumstances.
The process of applying for a Child Arrangements Order can be long and complex, involving the Court and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) carrying out checks with the local authority and police force to collate any information held on the children and/or the parents. CAFCASS will also meet with the parents and compile a report to be sent to the Court and both parents. This report could recommend further mediation – known as conciliation – or the compiling or a more detailed report. In reaching a decision the Court will consider all aspects of the case, and weigh the claims of the parents up against the Welfare Checklist to be found in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989. This checklist includes the following factors:
- The wishes and feelings of the child, bearing in mind their age and ability to understand the situation
- The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child
- The likely effect that any changes in circumstances will have on the child
- The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
- Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- How capable each of the parents is of meeting the child’s needs
No matter how an individual client decides to approach the issue of making arrangements for their children following the end of a relationship, our expert children legal advice will help to guide them through the process, whether that involves an informal agreement, meditation or the need to apply to the court for a solution. If you want to find out more about children legal advice please call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected] We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. The first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we’ll give you the first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.