LEGAL EAGLE: Putting the children first after a split

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More than one third of children will see their parents split up before their 16th birthday.

If you are worried about how to make the best arrangements for your children, you are not alone. Here are some key points to help keep you on track.

What does the law say about arrangements for children?

There are no fixed rules setting out arrangements for children whose parents separate. Courts have wide discretion to make decisions, so it can be difficult to predict exactly what they would decide.

A key legal principle, however, is that it is usually considered to be in a child’s best interests to spend time with both parents.

Family courts wish to promote the role of both parents in a child’s life, without appearing to give one parent a more important position than the other.

So gone is the idea that one parent has a ‘residence order’, whilst the other has a ‘contact order’, and instead courts now make ‘child arrangements orders’.

However, a court will still expect parents to try to reach their own agreement, because arrangements that are reached between parents are more likely to work in practice, than decisions imposed by a judge.

How can I reach agreement with my ex without going through court?

There are various ways of reaching a solution. Think about how you would like to be able to communicate as parents in the long term.

Processes like family mediation, where you talk face to face with professional support, lay the foundations for better communication and problem solving in the future.

Arrangements will very likely need to change as your children grow older. Being able to communicate effectively will help you to work through any changes to arrangements without having to involve lawyers each time.

When should I see a lawyer?

It is not always possible to work out suitable arrangements between yourselves, and there may be more complex legal issues to consider. In the following situations you should see a specialist family lawyer:

• If you or your ex are considering moving abroad or a significant distance away from where you currently live

• Where social services have been involved with your family

• Where there has been domestic abuse – emotional or physical. Legal aid is still available for people who have experienced domestic abuse.

• If it’s not been possible so far to make any arrangements at all to spend time with your children.

Jo Scott is a solicitor in David Gray Solicitor’s award–winning family team (Northern law Awards 2015) rated as Top Tier in The Legal 500 and Chambers national directories. Jo is based in our South Shields office.

You can contact Jo for a no obligation chat via our website where you can Chat Live 24/7

David Gray Solicitors will be holding free family law clinics in South Shields. Watch out for details here in the Shields Gazette.