Arrangements for Children
1. DIVORCE: ARRANGEMENTS FOR CHILDREN
If you’re going through a divorce with children, a fundamental aspect is making fair arrangements for your children.
In fact, a court won’t approve a divorce until it is satisfied suitable and fair arrangements have been made for the welfare of any children involved.
If both parties involved in the divorce are on amicable terms, it might be relatively easy to agree on who has custody of the children, as well as financial obligations and visitation rights.
Of course, many seeking a divorce simply don’t feel comfortable communicating with their partner at all, which is when employing a legal expert can be invaluable.
About this guide
Divorce is the legal process for ending a marriage, whether between mixed-sex or same-sex couples. There is a different legal process for ending a Civil Partnership, called Dissolution. More information on Civil Partnership Dissolution can be found below. The process for Civil Partnership Dissolution is similar to Divorce, however the guidance on this page applies to the process for Divorce only.
We use the term “partner” to refer to the person you are separating from, although you may already consider them your “ex”.
If at any time you’d like to speak to a solicitor, please call us on 01978227280 and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.
How a lawyer can help
Having a reliable divorce lawyer enables you to make educated decisions about your future, and that of your children. It also gives you a clear view on what you’re entitled to and what you may need to negotiate with your partner over.
At QualitySolicitors, we work quickly and efficiently to provide top quality legal advice and guidance through all aspects of the divorce process, including the effects of divorce on children.
FREE FIRST ADVICE
Our free, first advice phone call last between 10 to 15 minutes and provides confidential advice on how we can help you with the legal process of divorce.
ASK THE LEGAL EXPERT (£99)
This introductory, face-to-face meeting with one of our legal experts is confidential and lasts around 45 minutes. It is a chance for us to answer any questions and concerns you have about how the law will apply to your situation. You have no obligation to go on to use our full services.
We recommend this service if you are still unclear on your options after our Free First Advice.
2. CUSTODY OF THE CHILDREN
A court’s primary concern is the welfare of any children, and a judge will examine the ability of both parents to care for them.
Practical proposals from both parents will be considered by the court, where it will deliberate which parent has been the main care provider throughout the marriage, and whether it is better for the children for this to continue.
The feelings of the children will also be considered, along with their age, gender, characteristics and background, and each parent’s ability to meet their needs.
Who gets custody of the children?
Both parents can legally seek custody of children in a divorce, but the court will likely favour the main care provider throughout the marriage.
Divorce does not affect the legal rights and responsibilities of adoptive parents. The law regards adoptive children as though they were born to their adoptive parents. However, if a child has been fostered, they may be placed into care by the local authority granting the fostering.
If a child is the natural child of just one of the divorcing adults, custody may still be sought by both parties.
Depending on a child’s age, he/she may be given the opportunity to record their preference of which adult they would rather live with.
If seeking child custody, it could be worth speaking to your lawyer in order to prepare a case. The court will always expect you to make the best decision for the child.
Looking for legal advice about child custody?
Call us on 01978227280 and we’ll connect you to a local lawyer to arrange Free First Advice for you.
3. THE EFFECTS OF DIVORCE ON CHILDREN
A divorce can be a stressful experience for all involved. For children, the prospect of not knowing exactly what the future holds can also be frightening.
The amount of information you feel comfortable relaying to your children may differ by child. Whether you give them lots of details or simply an outline of what’s happening, it’s best to retain as calm and logical a stance as possible.
For children, seeing their parents upset can be distressing, so try to talk them through what’s happening as calmly as you can. It’s likely you’ll find your children will accept the forthcoming changes a little better this way.
Managing your child’s stress over a divorce
Divorce can have various effects on children and may come as a surprise to them if disagreements were kept behind closed doors.
To manage their stress, it’s important you stay as calm as possible in front of children. Don’t use them as a means to air any frustrations you might have about your partner.
1. Agree with your partner on your behaviour in front of children: You and your partner should try to agree ground rules on how you will act when you are together with your children.
2. Talk to your children and listen to how they feel: Whether they’re angry, frightened or worried, it’s important you continue to listen to your children.
Young children may express their emotions in different ways to older children, for example, with drawings. If you spot this, ensure you ask about any such pictures to encourage them to talk about their feelings. If they are unwilling to speak to you, speak to your GP about professional counselling or see if they will confide in a grandparent or other family member.
3. Tell your children you love them: Reassure your children by telling them that, although you have decided to separate with your partner, you both love them.
Explain it is not their fault and ensure they know they’re safe and will always be cared for.
Keep talking to your children throughout any disputes over money or contact arrangements, but avoid involving them in any disagreements.
4. Never criticise your partner in front of the children: It can be tempting, but is unfair on your children.
5. Don’t use your children as messengers: If you need to speak to your partner do not use your children as messengers. If it is hard for you to talk face to face, write a letter or email, just ensure you do so when you are feeling calm.
6. Treat your partner with respect in front of the children: It will reduce any trauma inflicted on your children if they can see both parents can continue to get along.
7. Try to co-operate over issues relating to your children: Disputes will hurt your children, so avoid putting them in the middle of any disagreements.
8. Try to agree arrangements where both parents remain actively involved: Statistics show children who continue to have a positive relationship with both parents will have a better start in life, perform better at school and are more likely stay out of trouble.
9. Try to present a united front: This helps to deter children from playing one parent off against the other.
Looking for legal advice on the custody of children?
Call us on 01978227280 to be connected with a local lawyer for Free First Advice.
4. CHILD MAINTENANCE PAYMENTS
A key aspect to making suitable arrangements for your children after a divorce is organising child maintenance payments.
Maintenance payments are usually made to the parent with custody of the child by the parent who does not have custody, to help cover living expenses.
Such payments are usual for any children under the age of 16, those under 20 in full-time education (no higher than A Levels), and those under 20 where the parent receives child benefit.
Although the court can issue general guidelines on what level of payment it expects a parent to make, this is an excellent opportunity to formalise your own fair and reasonable arrangements. In addition, you should try to clarify other financial decisions, such as how much each of you will contribute to one-off payments, like school trips, mobile phones or sports equipment.
How should child maintenance payments be calculated?
Both parents are responsible for the financial costs of raising a child, but if your children do not live with you, you will be expected to pay an amount of child maintenance to the parent who is full-time carer.
The amount you pay may be calculated based on your income and the number of qualifying children you have, or can be agreed between the two separating adults.
If you and your partner agree child maintenance between the two of you, this is known as a ‘family based arrangement’. Alternatively you can apply for guidance from the Child Maintenance Service (the replacement authority for the Child Support Agency). This is a statutory service that can calculate the amount that should be paid and arrange to collect the payments on a parent’s behalf. Sliding scales are used to work out how much money has to be earned before child maintenance must be paid and the amount to be paid for each child. Fees are payable to apply to the Child Maintenance Service and for enforcement through them.
The Child Maintenance Service considers the paying parent’s income and whether they are supporting other children. As a rough guide, if your former spouse earns £20,000 a year and supports just one child, you might receive around £50 a week. Those earning £40,000 a year and paying child support for two children might pay around £130 a week in total.
The level of maintenance payment may be reduced if the child is spending time with each parent on a regular basis.
You may be able to agree higher payments if you negotiate between yourselves with the support of a lawyer. This can be particularly helpful if your partner is a high-earner, or you want help with additional costs, such as private school fees.
Looking for legal advice about child maintenance payments?
To connect with a local lawyer to arrange Free First Advice call us now on 01978227280.
5. CHILD MAINTENANCE DISAGREEMENTS
Many couples find it difficult to come to an agreement on the financial side of divorce, including how child maintenance payments should be treated.
Some may come to a suitable agreement relatively quick that clearly has the child’s wellbeing in mind. For many, there will be a sticking point; whether due to the difference in earnings between partners, the diverse times or days they can commit to seeing their children, or other personal circumstances.
If you can’t agree, or feel you’d like independent guidance on the right thing to do, the court will expect you to seek mediation.
Your lawyer will advise you on the process as you will, at least, need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before you can request a court ruling about your divorce, children or any finances.
Note: Before 2014, a formal ‘statement of arrangements’ document was requested by the court, detailing both you and your partner’s commitments to your children after your divorce. This document is no longer required.
Mediation for child maintenance disagreements
A Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) is an opportunity for you to learn more about mediation and determine if there are ways to resolve your differences without going to court.
Your partner should also attend a MIAM, although doesn’t need to be the same meeting as you. At these meetings, the advantages of mediation will be explained, as well as likely costs involved. Having heard a little about your circumstances, the mediator will then be able to advise on next steps.
Once you have found a suitable service, the mediation process can be much swifter than a court case, with significantly lower costs. Mediators will work with you to explore your options and address any particular needs. Mediation can include a specific assessment of child maintenance payments.
There may be instances where mediation is unsuitable, but it should always be considered before taking your case to court.
Looking for more information about mediation?
For Free First Advice from a local lawyer, call us now on 01978227280.
6. FAILURE TO MAKE CHILD MAINTENANCE PAYMENTS
If your partner unexpectedly stops paying child maintenance you should talk to your solicitor so a financial order can be requested from court.
This is a formal notification from the court that your partner should make good on their commitment to paying child maintenance. It won’t be possible to approach the court for a financial order if you have remarried.
If your partner has already been served a financial order, and has subsequently failed to pay child maintenance, you may approach the court to enforce the payment of the child maintenance.
This might involve an attachment of earnings order, which arranges a payment to you directly from your partner’s. In this case, your child maintenance will effectively come straight from their wages.
Who do I speak to if my child maintenance payments have stopped?
Speak to your lawyer in the first instance.
It’s best to act quickly in such cases, and your lawyer will know how you can proceed in the most appropriate way.
The Child Maintenance Service now administers these types of payment; however if you and your partner already have a payment schedule through the Child Support Agency (CSA), arranged before December 2013, the CSA will still be administering those payments.
Discussing your situation with your lawyer will remove the risk of you wasting any time pursuing the incorrect route, and will enable you to move quickly should you decide to approach the court.
Looking for legal advice about failure of maintenance payments?
Call us on 01978227280 and we’ll put you through to a local lawyer to arrange Free First Advice for you.
7. VISITATION RIGHTS
Most people, whether with or without mediation, eventually agree on visitation arrangements for the children.
Taking a matter to court is possible, but costly, and should be considered as a final resort.
You and your partner should agree a visiting schedule to suit everyone as best as possible and, most importantly, ensure children are able to spend time with both parents.
Depending on your circumstances, this could include overnight stays during the week and at weekends, and longer stays during school holidays. There is no set rule regarding the frequency of contact. Every family is different and often children have other activities they should be encouraged to continue.
It is most important to remember children like to know when they are seeing each parent to retain a regular routine, so be realistic about the amount of time you can commit, to avoid subsequent cancellations.
How the court can help
You can apply for a child arrangement order, which sets out the time children will spend with you. The court’s priority will always be the welfare of the child and you may have more flexibility in how arrangements are structured if you can agree with your partner ahead of any proceedings.
If you do want to make a court application, you will need to see whether arrangements can be agreed with the help of a trained mediator.
Mediation can be used at any time and, at an early stage, may save a lot of time and heartache, helping to resolve or narrow the issues in dispute.
Need more information about visitation rights?
Call us on 01978227280 and we’ll arrange Free First Advice for you from a local lawyer.
8. FUTURE DECISIONS RELATING TO CHILDREN
Where maintenance payments are made, it is the responsibility of the parent receiving the payments to make decisions on how the money is best used.
Regardless of the maintenance payments you make, parental responsibility for the child does not end with divorce. Both parents are entitled to be involved in important decisions, such as where the child goes to school, or what happens in the event of serious medical treatment.
My partner has threatened to suspend child maintenance payments until I agree to his demands to see the children – what should I do?
Child maintenance is a separate issue to contact arrangements, so the court will not allow payments to be used as a bargaining tool in relation to access to children.
Organisations, such as the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), or National Family Mediation, may be able to help in resolving issues around access.
Need more support with child maintenance or contact disputes?
Call us on 01978227280 and we’ll arrange Free First Advice from a local lawyer to give you all the support you need.