This Article is presented by: Hana Khodabocus
Hana Khodabocus is an Associate Solicitor & Mediator at Tisshaws Family Law
As written by Hana Khodabocus, Associate Solicitor & Mediator, Tisshaws Family Law
It is important for divorcing parents to carefully consider the arrangements that shall be in place for their children once the divorce is finalised. This is a matter for the parents to decide upon in the first instance, and only in the absence of agreement should it then be referred to the court.
Co-parenting will stem from an acknowledgment of each parent’s parental responsibility for their children. Parental responsibility confers upon parents the right to be involved in the key decisions relating to their children’s welfare. Such decisions can include the following:
- Education – which school children shall attend.
- Identity – what name or surname children shall adopt and any changes in their name or surname during their minority.
- Health – what medical treatment children can receive i.e. vaccinations or operations.
- Religion – what religion the children should follow.
Mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children. Fathers will have parental responsibility if their children are born during the marriage, or in the case of children born after 2003, if they are registered on the birth certificates. In other cases, fathers shall need to acquire parental responsibility either by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or by making an application to the court.
It is usually the practical issues regarding the day-to-day care of children that parents will need to try and agree upon in order to effectively co-parent them. These can include the children’s bedtime routine, how to discipline them, what pocket money to give to them, and how to handle communications from their school or GP. In such cases, parents are encouraged to have a parenting plan in place. This is a written plan that as well as covering key issues such as the living arrangements for children and how much time they shall spend with their wider family, can also address some of the more practical issues associated with parenting that may not come immediately to mind. Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), who assist the court by making recommendations for the arrangements for children, have a template parenting plan available on their website. Parents that are going through a separation or divorce can access this for free and a link to this template is set out below:
It is important to note that parenting plans are not legally binding. That said, it is often found that they can help to open discussions about co-parenting and enable parents to consider the needs of their children in a more rounded way. A parenting plan can also provide a useful reference for parents as they work together in bringing up their children, and as they get older and their circumstances change i.e. children attend more extra-curricular activities after school or at weekends, parenting plans can be revisited and amended by parents accordingly.
In the event that divorcing parents need assistance with developing a parenting plan, they are encouraged to consider alternative forms of dispute resolution. Mediation can allow for parents to have open discussions about co-parenting with the assistance of a neutral mediator, who shall manage the process even-handedly, provide information and signpost where parties can obtain further assistance. Alternatively, parents could consider working with a Family Consultant who, as trained relationship therapists or coaches, can help to provide emotional and practical support to parents who are navigating their way through a divorce. Both mediators and family consultants will be able to help parents consider how to best meet their children’s needs and assist them in compiling a parenting plan.
In cases where parents cannot reach agreements amicably, or where alternative dispute resolution options break down, parents can apply to the court for it to determine the living arrangements for their children or to adjudicate upon a particular issue in dispute between parents and how they wish to exercise their parental responsibility i.e. children’s schooling, holidays or medical treatment. In making its decision, the court shall have the children’s welfare as its primary consideration and shall apply the welfare checklist, which is set out below:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding);
- The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child;
- The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances;
- The age, sex, background and any characteristics of the child which the court considers relevant;
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs;
- The range of powers available to the court under this Act (Children Act 1989) in the proceedings in question.
By fully respecting the role each parent can play in their children’s lives and their parental responsibility, divorcing parents shall stand a better chance of being able to work together and make joint decisions that not only promote the emotional wellbeing of their children but also provide them with the stability that will help them to flourish as individuals as they get older.
Our team at Tisshaws has extensive experience in helping to resolve the legal issues relating to children and parental responsibility disputes. Whilst we strive to resolve these issues as amicably as possible, we are experienced in litigation if that is required as a final resort.
We offer an initial consultation of up to one hour for £50.00 inclusive of VAT where you can receive further advice. To book an initial consultation, please contact 01444 472700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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