Relationship breakdown and child arrangements over the festive season

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For some the festive season can be one full of excitement and looking forward to much-needed quality time with family and friends, for others, it may be a particularly stressful and daunting time when facing a relationship breakdown, especially when children are involved.

Whilst the festive period in itself can be testing for co-parents, the following tips may help ease the pressure and apply to child arrangements in general/at any time of the year:

1. Prioritise the children’s needs

It is imperative that the children’s interests are put first no matter how acrimonious the break-up. Where appropriate, consider their wishes and feelings and give them the opportunity to be heard. The children’s best interests are certainly the Court’s paramount consideration if proceedings become necessary. Whilst emergency applications with respect to Christmas arrangements can be made to Court in the run-up to Christmas, there is no guarantee of a listing before Christmas. The earlier these applications are submitted the better.

2. Focus on wellbeing

There are many benefits of engaging a counsellor or therapist, to face and understand the challenges of relationship breakdown. If your children are struggling to come to terms with your relationship breakdown you can always seek assistance from your GP. There is also guidance on how to support children on the Relate website.

3. Maintain open communication

It is important to recognise the important role you will each have in your children’s lives until their maturity. Supporting a positive relationship and allowing the other parent to parent their way will pay dividends in the future. Respect each other and the arrangements in place to allow for an element of certainty and for the other parent to make plans. Where possible be sensitive and flexible around special occasions to ensure the children do not miss out. Be considerate of the other parent when the children are not with them and factor in time for the children to speak with them.

If there has been a wholesale breakdown in communication think about communicating via an independent third party and/or legal representative to keep the momentum in respect of negotiations. Children should never witness hostile disagreements, this poor behaviour will not be looked upon favourably by the Court.

4. Mediate

Mediation can be a cost-effective way to resolve a dispute and less angst-ridden than other options. A mediator is an independent and neutral third party who can help facilitate discussions.

The Government’s £500 voucher scheme for family mediation has been further extended. It is being made available for separating families with children, to go towards the cost of using accredited family mediation services. To encourage more people to consider mediation as a means of resolving their dispute outside of Court, where appropriate, in regards to child arrangements.

The £500 voucher cannot be used to pay for a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (‘MIAM’) itself, but for the mediation sessions that follow. More information on the scheme can be found at: Family Mediation Voucher Scheme and National Family Mediation.

Mediators cannot provide legal advice nor ensure arrangements are legally binding. Independent legal advice will need to be taken to ensure arrangements are enforceable.

5. Plan well

Make sure there is a well-defined plan for your child’s arrangements between each parent. This should include the dates, times and travel between each parent so that your child has stability and consistency in their lives. Ideally, it should also cover holiday arrangements and keeping each other informed about illness and school-related activities.

The Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘CAFCASS’) have put together resources and guidance on how to start to formulate such a plan and what to include within an informal parenting plan that may be of use to you: Help in Planning Together for Children.

Reaching an agreement in respect of child arrangements can be emotionally draining and challenging, make sure you obtain independent legal advice at an early stage and before finalising any agreement. There may be issues/long-term implications that you had not thought of. You may also wish to formalise your agreement so that it is binding and enforceable.

6. Seek professional assistance

There are many resources available to help you navigate a relationship breakdown with children such as CAFCASS and Resolution.

If mediation cannot get off the ground, you reach an impasse in discussions, you would like to turn an informal parenting agreement into an enforceable order or you are contemplating Court Proceedings our Family Law team at Ashtons Legal LLP has nine specialist Family Lawyers, one Apprentice Solicitor, two Specialist Paralegals and seven Legal Personal Assistants who would be able to offer you confidential and impartial legal advice and support.

Contact our Family Law solicitors today

If you require Family Law advice, from child arrangements and divorce to prenups and cohabitation agreements, please contact our specialist Family Law team by using our online enquiry form or by calling 0330 191 0070.


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