Resolving Child Contact Disputes between Separated Parents
There are a number of ways that separated parents can try to resolve child contact disputes. If the dispute can be resolved privately between the parents, then this is highly recommended as the best way forward.
As a rule of thumb, the best childcare agreements are going to be those worked out by the parents, rather than by the Court, which has limited exposure and knowledge of the family.
However, it’s not always possible for parents to resolve disputes between themselves, so it becomes necessary for third parties and/or the Court to get involved. This is particularly needed if there has been any domestic violence or there is a risk of harm to the children, in which case proceedings should be issued urgently at Court. In these sorts of circumstances, it isn’t considered appropriate for parents try to attempt any other method of resolving a child access dispute.
This article provides a brief introduction to some of the methods available for separated parents to help them resolve child contact disputes. For more information get in touch with our Family Solicitors.
In England and Wales a Parenting Plan is a written document that parents can negotiate and work out together. The plan is to help regulate and clarify the arrangements for your child’s care following separation. It can include a wide range of practical parenting issues such as:
- The child’s living arrangements
- The child’s contact time with each parent
- Who the child spends time with during the holidays
- Schooling, education and medical care
The aim of the plan is to put the welfare and best interests of the children first. By having a plan that sets out pre-agreed arrangements, children are given stability and an established routine, rather than uncertainty and being subject to ongoing disputes between the parents.
Benefits of having a Parenting Plan include:
- It will help parents and children to know what’s expected of them
- It’s a valuable reference document to refer back to if a dispute occurs
- In Court proceedings, it can be used as a starting point to evidence to the Court previous arrangements that were agreed and adhered to in the past.
Separated Parents Information Plan
A Separated Parents Information Plan (SPIP) is designed to help parents understand how to put their children first while they are separating, even when there are disputes with the other parent. The SPIP course is to help parents learn the fundamental principles of how to manage these conflicts and difficulties.
It’s important to note that ex-partners don’t attend the same SPIP session. Further, if child proceedings do get issued at Court, then there’s a high possibility that a Judge will direct parents to attend a SPIP course in any event.
Mediation is not relationship counselling, but a method of helping people reach an agreement on disputed issues. Mediation will aim to help parents agree on the details of how you’ll look after your children, such as where they’ll live and when they spend time with each parent.
A mediator can help you reach an agreement on child arrangements without taking sides as they are a neutral, independent third party. The mediator can help keep discussions on track, which is important given the tricky issues that will need to be grappled with.
It may take more than one session of mediation to cover all of the issues. However, the hope is that contact disputes can be resolved without the need for Court proceedings.
A further option, before issuing Court proceedings, is for parents to have their legal representatives (Solicitors/Lawyers) negotiate on their behalf. Often, direct lines of communication between parents have broken down and so become completely ineffective or cause more issues.
By contrast, having a Family Solicitor negotiate on your behalf can quite often remove the heat and anger out of the situation. It also provides an open channel of communication where the dispute can hopefully be resolved and a deal facilitated between the parents.
Court Proceedings – Child Arrangement Order
If none of the above methods helps parents resolve child access disputes, then proceedings can be issued at Court for a Child Arrangement Order.
Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, a Child Arrangement Order can be made which can regulate any of the following:
- Who a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with
- When a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with a person
The application is made at the nearest Family Court to where the child lives in England or Wales, and there is a Court fee payable of £215.
The overriding principle and therefore the Court’s main concern is the welfare of the child (rather than the interests of the parent). So in resolving a child contact dispute, any matter which affects the child’s welfare will be taken into account, including the wishes and feelings of the child concerned (subject to maturity).
Other factors which the Courts will consider include the child’s emotional, educational and physical needs, the likely effect of any change in circumstances, the risk of any harm and the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs. The importance of each of these factors will differ according to the circumstances of the case.
The Court proceeds on the basis that both parents should remain involved in their child’s life. However, no implication is given on any particular division of a child’s time and the presumption of involvement doesn’t apply if the parent’s involvement puts the child at risk of suffering harm.
The proceedings will involve numerous Court hearings and is often a very lengthy, stressful and costly process. Trying to resolve a child contact dispute through Court, therefore, should really be seen as a last resort unless there’s the risk of harm to the child/children.
For initial advice call our Family Law & Divorce Solicitors
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