Child Arrangements Following Separation

GEPP

21 September 2022

By Farhad Islam

The breakdown of a relationship can be an emotionally charged and difficult time for most adults, but even more so for the child(ren) of the family. It is therefore paramount that the needs of the child(ren) are at the fore of the parents’ decision making.

In the event of a separation, it is always recommended to (if possible) try and reach an agreement with the other parent with respect to the contact arrangements concerning your child(ren); whether it be directly with the other parent (with the assistance of solicitors) or mediation. Defined contact arrangements provide the child(ren) with the certainty and stability which will allow them to flourish both in their adolescent years as well as later life, but also avoids any conflict/misunderstandings between the parties.

Should you opt for meditation (something which I am always very supportive of), be sure to draw the Mediator’s attention to the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme, albeit they should be aware of it.

The scheme is designed to support parties who may be able to resolve their family law disputes, including child arrangements, outside of Court. The scheme was set up in response to COVID-19 to support recovery in the Family Court and to encourage more people to consider mediation as a means of resolving their disputes, where appropriate. Each party is given £500.00 towards their costs of mediation.

How can you formalise child arrangements following a separation?

If you and the other parent are able to reach an agreement, then you have two options in so far as formalising the agreement is concerned:

1. Enter into a Parental Agreement

The Agreement will set out the terms agreed between you and the other parent pertaining to the contact arrangements, which will then be signed by the two of you. Although the Agreement is a legal document, it is not legally binding. What this means is that, should either party breach the Agreement, you cannot make any urgent application to Court to enforce the same. You will be required to follow the normal process in so far as starting Court proceedings is concerned.

2. Enter into a Consent Order

The Order will contain the exact same terms as the Parental Agreement- the primary difference being that once signed by both parties, it will need to be submitted to Court for approval and seal. You and the other parent may be required to attend a first hearing, albeit this is not always the case. Once approved and sealed, the Order becomes legally binding, meaning that in the eventuality of a breach, you would be able to make an urgent application for the enforcement of the Order.

What happens if you cannot agree child arrangements voluntarily?

If it is not possible to reach an agreement with the other parent, then the only solution will be to commence Court proceedings for a Child Arrangements Order.

A Child Arrangements Order is a legally binding Order where the Court decides where and with whom the child(ren) is to live and, when and how often the child(ren) can spend with time the non-resident parent. The Order can also be very specific- in that, it can, for example, set out other types of contact such Christmas, summer holidays, birthdays, Mother’s/Father’s Day, phone/video calls, travelling abroad etc.

To apply for a Child Arrangement Order, you must have Parental Responsibility. Parental Responsibility refers to the legal rights, responsibilities, and authority that someone has over a child. Someone with Parental Responsibility is entitled to be consulted and for their consent to be obtained when any major decisions regarding the child(ren)’s upbringing are being made which, for example include health, schools/education, religion, relocation etc.

The following people are automatically granted Parental Responsibility:

  • Birth mothers.
  • Fathers married to the mother at the time the child was born.
  • Fathers who are not married to the mother, but are registered on the child’s birth certificate. The registration or re-registration must have taken place on or after 1 December 2003.
  • Civil partners and partners of mothers registered as the child’s legal parent on the birth certificate.

In the event that you do not have Parental Responsibility, then you must go through an additional step of applying to the Court for permission to seek a Child Arrangement Order before you can begin the process. This often applies to grandparents. The same rule applies to anyone else involved in the child(ren)’s life, who does not have Parental Responsibility.

Get expert help with child arrangements following a separation

I have assisted many clients negotiate agreements with the other parent, without the need for recourse to Court proceedings, as well as those where proceedings were (unfortunately) unavoidable.

If you need help with access to your child(ren), then Gepp Solicitors to assist and support you with this.

To find out how our child law solicitors in Essex can help you with child arrangements, please feel free to get in touch.

Please note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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