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Stage Five of the Divorce Process: Arrangements for Children

By Solicitor, Family

Each year in January our team sees a spike in divorce following the festive season. This year we’re taking you through the stages of divorce so you know what to expect if you find yourself in this situation. Stage five focuses on finances, with the following looking at what you need to consider at this point in the divorce process and what information you need to provide.

Staying in a marriage is no longer an option for some people. Some leave because they are forced to, whilst others simply fall out of love. In many cases, the reason given for a couple staying together for longer than either of them wanted, is the children. Unsurprisingly, when couples begin contemplating a split, their children’s welfare becomes the main reason they tell themselves they can’t do it. Research shows that the majority of ‘children of divorce’ are not suffering from any long lasting negative effects on things like their self-esteem or school grades. However, making the decision to leave a marriage where children are involved is one of the most difficult decisions any parent will have to make.   

The first concern when parents have made the decision to separate must be arrangements for the children, with a priority issue being how children are told about their parents’ separation and how they are best supported through it. Then the question arises of how the children’s time will be divided between the parents once they have established separate households.

Arrangements for their children can be one of the most difficult and emotive issues for separating parents, and as a consequence, the same arrangements are frequently the source of more serious and profound disagreements. It is crucial, therefore, when addressing arrangements for the future, to do everything possible to limit the stress and anxiety generated for the benefit of both the adults and the children.

Practical Guidance

There are a number of practical resources which can be accessed instead of, or in parallel with, legal advice or court proceedings. For example, CAFCASS produce a parenting plan booklet which provides guidance on agreeing some or all arrangements affecting the children of separated parents.

There are other practical steps parents can take, like informing the children’s school as soon as possible so they’re aware of the situation at home and can deal with any potential issues which may arise during the day. This will allow the school to coordinate over practical matters, for example who will be doing the school run, arrangements on parent/ teacher evenings and sport days. Of course nowadays schools are very used to helping separated parents and many will have resources available in-house.

Depending on living arrangements, parents might need to notify the Child Benefit Agency of any change of address or change of payee.

Of course if parents are having difficulties discussing issues directly with one another, or they are not able to agree arrangements, then they could consider attending at mediation or inviting their spouse or partner to a collaborative meeting. Alternatively, matters might resolve amicably if your solicitor corresponds directly with the spouse or partner on behalf of a parent/client.  

Financial arrangements concerning children also need to be discussed. Separating parents should consider how the change in circumstances will affect how they each contribute financially to ensure their children’s needs are met.

If an agreed level of maintenance cannot be agreed on then an application can be made to the Child Maintenance Service.  The separation may also mean that one party will become entitled to tax credits. If tax credits are already being paid, separation may require them to be reassessed.

Separating parents should also consider reviewing their wills.

Dispute Resolution

Not all parents are able to agree all aspects of their child’s upbringing. Some need help, either generally or in relation to a particular issue. Sometimes we find that decisions made by a Judge are not really to the liking of either parent, one of the risks of litigation. Agreeing arrangements outside of court can allow parents to retain control and reach an agreement, sending an important message to children that both parents support the new arrangements.

The court will make a Child Arrangements Order if parents are unable to agree on the arrangements of where a child will live and who the child will spend time with (if any) and when.

Prior to making an application the intended applicant should usually attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with a mediator. There are limited exceptions to this obligation. This meeting is held to assess whether or not mediation might prove helpful to resolve the dispute. A Family Mediation and Assessment Meeting Form must be signed by both the applicant and the mediator to confirm that the MIAM has happened. If a MIAM has not taken place, the applicant will need to file a Mediation Form saying why.

If it is not possible to reach agreement through mediation or via solicitors, an application will usually be filed in the county court nearest to where the child lives.

Going Abroad with Children

Where there is no Child Arrangements Order in place, the removal of a child from the UK requires the consent of every person with Parental Responsibility. If that consent cannot be obtained, then the court’s permission must be sought. Taking the child out of the UK without consent might constitute a Child Abduction which brings, with it potential civil and criminal consequences.

Special rules apply where an order is in place which usually allows for the person in whose favour the order has been made can usually take the child overseas for a period without obtaining permission from other people with Parental Responsibility.  However, even where there is an order in place, it is still sensible for a person with the Order in their favour to consult the other holders of Parental Responsibility about any proposed visit overseas.

If you’re looking for advice on any stage of the divorce process, our expert family team is here to help with the advice you need. Contact us for further information.   

Katherine Muldoon is a family law solicitor with experience dealing with both public and private law children matters, as well as divorce and finances at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

If you’re going through a divorce, it’s important to understand each stage as you go through the process. You can find out more about each stage in the links below:

Stage One: Separation

Stage Two: Mediation

Stage Three: Divorce

Stage Four: Finances

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