Divorce is usually a traumatic and stressful experience for all parties concerned, even if the couple in question manages to keep things fairly amicable. A divorce with children involved, however, can make things much more complicated and even more emotionally draining than simply accepting that a relationship has ended. As family law experts we’re used to dealing with cases of divorce with children, blending legal expertise with empathy and understanding to guide our client through each and every stage of the process.
As well as divorce with children we’re used to dealing with complex legal issues such as wills and probate and domestic abuse, and we pride ourselves on remaining completely up to date with any changes in the legislation as well as the latest case law which might impact on any court proceedings. In all cases, we place the well-being of the child at the centre of everything we do, and always guide our clients going through a divorce with children toward reaching an agreement without clashing in a court of law if possible.
In simple terms, anyone going through a divorce with children will have to come to an arrangement dealing with how those children will be looked after in the future. Unless the child is at risk of harm from one of the parents, the law focuses on doing everything possible to ensure that they have a relationship with both parents and the arrangements reached following a divorce with children – which many people think of as ‘custody’ or ‘access’ – are now referred to as child arrangements.
The factors which both parents have to take into account following a divorce with children include where the child will live and with which parent, and how much time they’ll spend with the non-resident parent. If the child is old enough to make their feelings felt then their wishes should be taken into account, as should the identity of the parent who has been the primary carer until now (although this may have been shared fairly equally between both parents) and what the rights of contact will be. If the parents can agree on these details then they can draw up a parenting plan. This could detail aspects of the post-divorce arrangements such as the following:
- Where the child will live and with whom
- When they will spend time with the other parent and extended family such as grandparents
- How financial support – known as child maintenance – will be provided
- How issues such as education and healthcare will be dealt with
- Which decisions regarding the child in the future – such as a change of school – can be decided by the resident parent alone and which will have to be joint decisions
Although a parenting plan of this kind is not legally binding it can be incredibly useful in terms of getting through a divorce with children and will provide a practical touchstone in the future if any disagreements over what is best for the child arise. If you feel the need to turn the plan into a legally binding agreement then you need to apply to the court for an order doing so, and it’s vital, even if you agree on the points in the agreement, that the advice of experts such as those at Higgins Miller is sought to ensure that the wording of the documents accurately reflects the wishes of both parents and the best outcome for the child both at the time of the divorce and into the future. Even if a court order isn’t needed, it’s best to have a parenting plan scrutinised by legal experts to ensure that it states exactly what you want it to state.
If parents can’t agree on the details of the divorce with children then the law states that, in the vast majority of cases, the couple have to seek mediation, before being legally entitled to seek a child arrangements order. The experts at Higgins Miller will be able to refer you to a mediation service and provide on-going legal advice. The mediation process involves an independent mediator facilitating communication between the parties and hopefully guiding them toward an agreement. If an agreement is still not possible the mediator will provide a signed and certified application form to submit to the court, but in many cases, mediation works by taking some of the anger from the situation and enabling parents to focus on what is best for their children. As legal experts, although we wouldn’t accompany a client to mediation, we would be able to advise them before and after each session and explain what the next steps should be.
If mediation fails and you need to apply to the court for a child arrangements order then the court will reach a decision on the details of that order based on:
- The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child
- The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances
- The age and sex of the child and any characteristics which the court feels are relevant
- Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
- The capability of the parents when it comes to looking after the child and meeting their needs
If you want to find out more about divorce with children or the divorce process in general 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. This initial meeting can ensure that you understand why social services have made contact and can feel able to move forward with confidence. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.