Contact with children following divorce14th December 2015 10:07 am Leave your thoughts
Every year, 12,000 couples with children decide to live apart. As the recent high-profile case of Rebecca Minnock and her son Ethan illustrated, making arrangements for parenting following the break-up of a relationship can be challenging.
Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 states that whenever a court has to make a decision concerning the upbringing of a child, ‘the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.’
Child Arrangement Orders
Many parents still firmly believe in, and speak in terms of, their “rights”. However, the court proceeds on the basis of what is best for the child.
A child has a right to have contact and spend time with both parents. Where agreement cannot be reached, a “child arrangement order” can be used by the court to facilitate living arrangements, shared care and contact. From April 2014, “residence and contact orders” were abolished and replaced with child arrangement orders that govern who a child is to live with and how a child is to spend time or have contact with someone.
The amount of time that is typically considered reasonable for a parent to spend time with a child can range from a couple of hours, with a young baby, to a day each weekend with a toddler. For older children, longer periods of contact with overnight stays can be arranged. From the age of 10, the court takes into account the child’s wishes and will not force a teenager over 14 to spend time with the other parent against their wishes. Other perhaps less conventional forms of contact including telephone or Skype can also be ordered if it is considered appropriate by the Court.
If one parent decides to make the situation unworkable and frequently refuses to honour the terms of a child arrangement order, the court will try to find other ways to make a difficult situation work for both parents, but most importantly, for the child. If one parent persistently refuses to comply with the terms of an order, the Court may consider that behaviour to be contempt of court, which is a very serious matter, and, as a last resort, a Judge may consider fining and/or imprisoning a parent found to be in contempt.
Retired Judge Mr Justice Coleridge proposed on several occasions the introduction of a “three strikes and you’re out” principle. He believed that a parent who did not comply with an order should be faced with the removal of their child or children from their care if they fail to comply with three arrangement orders. Whilst the courts have always shied away from making orders that result in prison sentences, his remarks reflect the view expressed in some quarters that some parents with full care feel they can flout the law to the detriment of the other parent and get away with it.
Finding a way forward
Expert legal advice can help facilitate contact arrangements for parents of separated families and for the wider family such as aunts, uncles or grandparents. It’s important to work with an experienced adviser who can consider the issues, help resolve conflict and find workable solutions that are in the long-term best interests of the child or children involved.
If you, or someone you know, face the issues discussed in this article, please contact us. Specialist Family Law Solicitor Elizabeth Miles has vast experience of dealing with exactly these types of issues. Elizabeth has a firm and practical but, above all, empathetic approach and she understands the fears and concerns that parents often face following a relationship breakdown. To speak to Elizabeth about your particular circumstances, or to make an appointment, telephone 01628 631051 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This post was written by Colemans Solicitors LLP