Along with property and finances, children and child arrangements are one of the most complex areas when going through a divorce. If you and your partner have children under the age of 18, you will need to make child arrangements for when the divorce is finalised. This will cover areas such as where the child will live, what their education will be and many other important decisions.
what happens if we agree on child arrangements?
If you and your partner both fully and amicably agree on your child arrangements, then you can make a parenting plan together. A parenting plan is a written document that lays out everything that you have discussed with your ex-partner. For example, this could include:
- Who your children will live with
- When they will spend time with the “other” parent
- If equal shared care would work and how you could implement that
- If you need to sort out finances and how much child maintenance will be involved.
- How you’ll deal with any issues relating to your children’s education, mental health and healthcare
- How you and your ex-spouse will communicate together for the benefit of the child and avoid conflict.
- Introducing new partners into the children’s lives
However, a parenting plan is not a legally binding document. This means that neither parent is legally obliged to comply with the agreement, and issues could arise further down the line. However, if/when these issues arise (such as failing to pay child maintenance) your parenting plan can be used as evidence in court.
what happens if we disagree on child arrangements?
However, it’s fair to say that the majority of divorces are not always amicable. When parents split up and move to different locations, or have different wishes about their child’s upbringing, disputes and disagreements are bound to arise.
The first step for parents who cannot come to an amicable agreement is to go to a family mediator. Legally, you can’t apply for a child arrangements order without having attempted mediation first.
Mediation is voluntary and although it isn’t free, it can be a beneficial alternative to prevent issues arising and court orders being put in place. It’s also a far more cost-effective method of making child arrangements than going to court.
Is mediation a legal requirement?
Mediation is only a legal requirement if the parents need a child arrangements order, as mediation is used to resolve disputes before they go to court.
If you choose to go to mediation, you and your partner will need to attend an MAIM meeting, the initial mediation assessment. Your mediator will assess if you’re suitable for mediation and if there are any more suitable alternatives.
During the mediation process itself, your mediator will act as a neutral third party and will assist you both to come to a mutual agreement for your child arrangements.
what child arrangements orders are there?
In the event of a disagreement that can’t be resolved by mediation, you can apply to the court for an order that legally determines your child arrangements. There are 4 main orders:
- Child arrangements order, which outlines basic child arrangements.
- Prohibited steps order, which restricts a parents parental responsibility. This order is normally made if the child’s wellbeing is at risk.
- Consent order, which simply confirms a child arrangement.
- Specific issue order, which determines a particularly complex decision.
Your child arrangement order will determine where your children will live and how much time they spend with the other parent and well as many other factors. Either parent can apply for a child protection order, as can a step-parent.
A child arrangement order typically takes 6-12 months to come into place. The court will also consider the child’s welfare and will look at criteria such as:
- The wishes and feelings of the child
- Their physical, emotional and educational needs
- How this change will affect the child’s behaviour
- Their age, sex, background
- Any potential harm the child has been through or may continue to be exposed to
- The capability of each parent and how suitable they are to take care of them.
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