Every year, thousands of divorcing or separating parents apply to the courts for help in resolving disputes over arrangements for their children – from deciding how much time a child should spend with each of them to which surname a child should adopt.
These applications (or lack of clarity around them) can cause excess stress at an already emotionally tumultuous time. Here, Kirsten Bennett, Managing Partner of specialist family law firm Lund Bennett, lays out the key issues to consider, and their resolutions.
Your children’s living arrangements
Whilst both parents retain parental responsibility for their children following a divorce or separation, a decision as to where they’ll live and spend most of their time must be made and it’s the biggest – and often most difficult – one you’ll make.
When neither parent can come to an agreement, a child arrangement order can be sought. This court order sets out where the child/children will reside, and how much time/type of contact they’ll have with either parent. It can also provide an order that the children live with both parents at defined times. A child arrangement order typically lasts until a child reaches 16 or if the child is vulnerable, 18.
Any conflict relating to individual issues, such as medical care or type of education, can be similarly mediated by obtaining a specific issue order, which will offer court- led, child welfare-focussed direction.
Special occasions, like Christmas
The festive season is just around the corner and splitting the twelve days of Christmas between parents/families can be hugely challenging, especially when you add in pressure to create picture- perfect memories, and mixed feelings of nostalgia and resentment arise.
If your existing child arrangement order doesn’t set out how the holidays will be spent and you fail to reach a resolution independent of the court, you can make an application, with Lund Bennett’s support, to vary the order to include Christmas arrangements and ensure more peaceful festive seasons.
Holidaying overseas – thinking ahead
Where there is no child arrangement order in place, you must seek the co-parent’s permission to take your child/children on summer breaks overseas.
If, however, there is a child arrangement order and the duration of the holiday is less than 28 days, no co-parent permission is required.
But take note, you may be asked to provide evidence of your permission to travel with your children and your relationship to them at a UK or foreign border. Lund Bennett can talk you through the relevant documentation potentially required.
The firm also recommends discussing possible trips abroad with your ex-partner as soon as possible; this gives space to iron out any differences.
If this dialogue fails, a specific issue order can be applied for. If you’re concerned your ex-partner may take your child/children away without your consent, a prohibited steps order can prevent them making such decisions independently.
Child maintenance & education fees
Both parents are responsible for the living costs of raising a child, regardless of where the child lives.
Child support payments are required by law and can be arranged privately, however, if this is not achievable, the government’s Child Maintenance Service will calculate and arrange a fixed payment schedule, payable until the child turns 16 or if they are in full-time secondary education, 20.
This service will also act if a parent fails to make a payment.
A private school education for your children may be important to you, but affordability is one of the family court’s main considerations when deciding to order f inancial input. We recommend obtaining early expert family law advice to ensure your children face as little disruption to their education as possible.
If your child/children go to university, ask your co-parent directly for support because, yes, the court also has powers to order the provision of financial support for tertiary education.
It may sound obvious, but at a time when they are most vulnerable and at risk, experiencing emotional – sometimes geographical – upheaval, the most essen- tial thing to consider during the divorce/ separation process is your child/children’s welfare.
And it is their welfare that is at the heart of Lund Bennett’s approach.
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