Disputes involving children
Family law covers a lot of different subject areas, but none more important than disputes involving children and their wellbeing. Disputes involving children usually happen simultaneously with a relationship breakdown or divorce when emotions are running high. But sometimes parents need help to resolve an ongoing family situation. Some of the issues regarding children that you may need to decide include:
- where the children are going to live
- which school the children will attend
- what family or friends they can see and visit
- if it is possible to take the children outside England or Wales for holidays or to live (big note here: this includes to Scotland and Northern Ireland…)
- what medical treatment they should receive
- how they will be raised, for example, religion, vegetarian, etc
- their surname
These days, you are relatively free to come to whatever arrangements are going to work best for the family, provided all parties agree to those arrangements and that they are in the best interests of the child. If a child’s safety is at issue, then a court order needs to be applied for straight away.
Who has parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is a legal right and means you have the right to participate in decision making regarding your child or children and to receive information about them. All mothers and those fathers named on the birth certificate, whether or not they are married, automatically have parental responsibility. A father who is not named on the birth certificate may apply to the court for parental responsibility and or reach an agreement with the mother. Thecourt will normally grant parental responsibility to a blood-line parent who asks for it. Adoptive parents have the same legal responsibility as biological parents, but foster or step-parents do not, unless there are certain orders in place.
What if we cannot agree?
If you and any others with parental responsibility cannot agree on decisions regarding the children, you should first attend a mediation session. Mediation is less expensive than going to court and can help you find a solution to the dispute quicker and more amicably than getting the court involved. You also have the chance to shape the arrangements as you both want – as opposed to having a judge decide arrangements that perhaps neither of you like.
However, if agreement seems impossible you can apply to the court to make a child arrangements order, financial order, or a specific issue or prohibited steps order. An experienced lawyer can help you achieve long-term solutions or alternatively guide you through the mediation or court process where necessary; or draw up an agreement that you have reached yourselves outside of either of these options.
What about adopted or step-children or where there are allegations of abuse?
All disputes involving children need to be treated sensitively but none more so than allegations of child abuse or where the children are not residing with their natural parent. Some of the most challenging disputes may involve social services and in situations where a child’s safety is at risk you will need legal advice that may result in an immediate court order to protect the child.
The paramount concern of the court in any dispute involving children is the welfare of the child and safeguarding the welfare of the children. Whatever your role in relation to the children, we can help to ensure that their welfare is paramount, and your rights, and theirs, are protected.
How can we help?
When the family setup is changing, it can be difficult for all involved, including your children. Deciding where the children will live, with whom, and when, can be challenging, especially when emotions are running high.
Parents and grandparents may feel anxious about ‘losing touch’ with their children or grandchildren or being ‘pushed aside’. Perhaps one parent thinks the other does not really understand their concerns or points of view. Then, there is the heartache of trying to explain the new circumstances to your children.
We believe effective communication between parents and carers helps enormously when trying to resolve parenting matters and can avoid having to go to court.
If you are struggling to agree on arrangements for your children, we can help communicate your point of view and guide you in deciding the best possible outcome. If arbitration or court proceedings are necessary, then we can represent you and make your voice heard. We can help with preparation of a Parenting Plan, to set the ground rules of how you will move forward.