Sometimes parents find that they cannot agree on arrangements for their children following separation. Going to court over children is the last resort. It costs a great deal of money and can cause much acrimony. Unless there are pressing reasons for an application to the court, it is best avoided.
The court will in any event have expected you to exhaust all over options before you get there. It will have expected you to have tried to negotiate and to have at least started to consider a Parenting Plan. Luckily, in the majority of cases over how a child’s time is divided between parents it should be possible to reach some form of compromise and this is where a Parenting Plan can help.
A Parenting Plan is a written agreement between the parents that covers arrangements relating to the children, and which puts the best interests of the children first. It helps everyone know where they stand.
The Plan should cover the following:
- The “child arrangements” or how much time children spend with each parent on a normal weekly basis. This should also cover how the other parent will stay in touch when the child is not with them.
- Holidays should be addressed too – it is generally a good idea to split these between you so that the children have some holiday time with each parent.
- Some thought will need to be given to special occasions. In an ideal world a child’s birthday should be shared. A united front on such occasions sends your child a positive message. Mother’s Day should be with mum and Father’s Day should be with Dad. The children should see their parents on that parent’s birthday. Christmases should be alternated between the parents, perhaps with New Year’s Day, Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. Children spend time with both parents at this special time of the year. If you can do Christmas together that is completely up to you.
- Depending on the needs of the child, the Plan could cover how to best approach educational or health questions.
- How will you keep the lines of communication open between you? Unforeseen events can come up. There needs to be an element of flexibility. A child can be unwell or need to go to another commitment like a birthday party or school event. This is not the end of the world and should not be treated as such. An alternative agreement can always be reached.
The Plan can be tailored to suit the family’s particular circumstances. For it to be successful it is important to bear in mind the following:
- What is best for the child should always be at the forefront of your thinking. That can change over time so be ready to renegotiate. What fits for a 6 year old will likely not work for a 12 year old. Be flexible and keep an open mind;
- Arguing that a child’s time must be split absolutely equally and that you should always be “compensated” if something else comes up is not attractive and is likely to create conflict. Think of how the child sees disputes like this;
- Listen to your child, especially if they are a little older – the court will, if it comes to it. This should not however be used as a licence to influence children or speak to them in a way that is not appropriate to their age and understanding.
A Parenting Plan can be agreed between parents directly. At times this can be difficult, especially if the relationship breakdown is a recent or unhappy one. A solicitor can help you negotiate the agreement or talk you through the issues to ensure that you are on the right negotiating track yourself. It may be the case that
mediation is the right fit for you at this point. Basically, anything is better than going to court and this should always be remembered.
In some cases, it is not possible to reach an agreement. In cases where there is a domestic violence or risk to a child’s welfare, advice from a solicitor should be sought at the earliest opportunity. Even then, it may be possible to avoid the situation escalating into expensive court proceedings. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot seem to agree on what is best for your children then you should get in touch with a solicitor and find out where you stand.
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