It is rarely simple to end any relationship, but it is invariably the case that this process becomes a great deal more complicated when there are children involved, whether these be children of the relationship in question or from previous relationships.
Understandably, a lot of people find it very difficult to discuss the details about their children’s future when a relationship is in the process of ending or has just recently ended. Sometimes, it will be easier to discuss these issues at a later date but all too often a breakdown in communication can continue, often getting worse over time unless it is directly addressed at some stage, potentially leading to problems that people feel can only be addressed through the use of the legal system. Whilst the advice of solicitors and other legal professionals can be very helpful to many people who end up going down this route, there is a need to think very carefully about the impact that solicitors’ letters will have on the other party as there is always the possibility that inappropriate words will worsen the position, leaving an application to the court as the last resort.
An alternative method is to try and come to an agreement without the direct intervention of the legal system. This could happen by both parents deciding to sit down together to discuss their children’s future but there may be benefits in approaching a family mediator for assistance at that time, especially if communication has already broken down to the point where a private meeting may simply end in further arguments taking place. Any family mediator should be able to offer a safe environment for discussions to take place about any issues relating to children, an environment in which both parties feel comfortable in raising their concerns and making their suggestions for how future arrangements can be made. It is normally the case that the mediator is able to raise a number of issues that neither party has yet to consider, in an effort to ensure that the proposed arrangements have as great a chance of being successful in the future as possible. For example, some of the issues that it might be helpful to explore are:
- Where will the children live? Will this be at one parent’s house or will some form of shared residence be required?
- If the children are to live primarily with one parent, what will the contact arrangements be for the children to spend time with the other parent?
- Will different provisions need to be made during school holidays and half-terms?
- Should an agreement be made about how either parent will plan an overseas holiday with the children?
- Are there any important decisions that need to be made about the schooling or health needs of the children? How will any future needs be addressed, including considering how the parents should communicate with each about these issues? Will both parents liaise directly with schools and doctors or will one parent agree to pass on all relevant information to the other parent?
- How will the possibility of one parent paying child maintenance to the other parent be discussed? Will this involve the intervention of the Child Maintenance Options organisation (formerly the Child Support Agency, which is likely to requires fees to be paid, or will a voluntary arrangement be made?
- Are there other important relationships that need to be considered from your children’s perspective, including contact with grandparents and brothers and sisters?
- If there is a need to consider changing any of the agreements reached, either at short-notice or on a long-term basis, how will this be discussed and agreed?
The above suggestions are just some of the many different aspects that parents might want to discuss in relation to the future arrangements for their children, and by discussing them it is likely that many more issues will arise. Please contact us if you feel that mediation might be appropriate and you would like to talk about any of these issues in more details. However, if you would prefer to receive independent advice, you will be able to find a lot of information on the Government’s advice website: https://www.gov.uk/legal-aid or at your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ with the nearest CAB being in Godalming http://waverleycab.org.uk/