Where to Start
Even if you no longer love each other, chances are you’ll both want the best for your child(ren). You may have different views, but as long as you can come to an agreement on child living and contact arrangements, there’s no need to go to Court. In fact, there’s no requirement to make a written agreement, although many separating couples find this helpful to minimise hostility.
Assuming both parents have Parental Responsibility, you have rights and responsibilities in relation to your child(ren), including making decisions in relation to a child’s:
- Travels abroad
For the separated parents’ relationship to work in the children’s best interests, both parents must recognise the importance of consulting the other parent, when making these important decisions. On the other hand, you don’t have to consult each other on every detail of how you care for the child(ren).
Too often the parents’ relationship is in danger of collapsing due to disagreements about minor issues or simply a different parenting style. Unless you are certain that the child’s welfare is at risk, you must try to allow your former partner to parent in their own way.
Do We Need a Shared Parental Plan?
If you have decided to agree a Shared Parental Plan, you have a few options as to how to go about it:
- Private agreement
- Negotiate through Solicitors
- Mediation guided by a qualified family mediator
For the Shared Parental Plan to work, both parties must try to be reasonable and, above all, compromise. Remember that this is all about the children’s welfare and best interests, not point-scoring with your ex.
There is an assumption in the English Courts that, except in extreme situations, regular contact and a relationship with both parents is generally in the children’s best interests. The child’s wishes and feelings will be considered in accordance with their maturity. However, professionals recognise that children can often tell parents what they want to hear as they tend to “people please” in the midst of a relationship breakdown.
The Shared Parental Plan should be designed to suit your children’s needs and your personal situation. Some parents prefer, and are practically able, to share care on more or less equal basis. It can be agreed for the child to live with each parent on an alternate week basis or rolling sequences of days (e.g. 2-2-3), or even to spend weekends and only some school nights with one parent and the rest of the days with the other.
Sometimes, less contact during school terms can be compensated with more holiday contact. However, it’s down to the individual child. If there is more than one child, their individual stages of development will have to be considered, especially with very young children who are breastfeeding, for example.
Sharing care of the child doesn’t always mean that the child must spend 50% of their time in each parents’ home, as the line between having contact and sharing care of the child can be fluid and requires flexibility. It can be preferable to call the arrangements “shared” to help the parent who spends less time with the child to not feel undermined.
On the other hand, some parents will prefer the more traditional arrangement with one of them being the “primary carer” and the other having contact with the child, especially if work commitments dictate or new accommodation doesn’t provide the space. Every family is different.
If you are unsure which option is best for you, our Family and Child Law Solicitors can advise you on how to approach this discussion and what would be considered “reasonable” according to your situation.