We still talk about our rights concerning our children when a relationship breaks down but these no longer exist. Now we must focus on the children’s rights and our duties to our children as parents. We have responsibilities for our children but they have real and urgent rights.
The terminology has changed. For example there is no longer “custody” or access but child arrangement orders. These days the Courts will not interfere with your arrangements for your children unless you ask them to settle a disagreement. Any dispute will not be decided as a contest as to who is the better parent but wholly on what is best for the child, even if that is unfair to one or other parent.
It is vital for the future emotional well being of your children that neither parent uses them as a tool or bargaining chip in any battle against the other parent. Children can cope with divorce. What they cannot handle is conflict between their parents. Remember that they love both of you and cannot be expected to take sides.
All mothers, irrespective of marital status, have automatic Parental Responsibility for their children from birth as do married fathers. At the moment however, only non-married fathers who are named on the birth certificate since 2003 have Parental Responsibility. A mother can grant it to the father by signing an Agreement. If she refuses then the Courts can, and usually will, grant Parental Responsibility to the father.
Maintenance for all children of both parties’ is dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), provided the father resides here, or is a member of the Armed Forces posted abroad. Otherwise, the Court can order maintenance to be paid in those circumstances where the CMS has no authority, for example: for stepchildren and to order the payment of school fees.
An application for a Child Arrangement Order is made to the Family Court. Most separating couples will be expected to attend a MIAM (mediation information session) before applying to the Court. If mediation is inappropriate an initial hearing is fixed when it is decided how best to resolve the problem. The Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) can beinvolved by the Court and the officer will contact both parents before reporting back to the Court. The CAFCASS Officer will often present a formal report to the Court. The parents can also file statements. If necessary the Court will decide the outcome after a full hearing of all the evidence.
If both sides agree then issues relating to the children can be resolved quickly but if there are disputes involving children the process can be drawn out and complex. It is essential that you have specialist legal advice throughout this process to ensure that your children’s interests are put first.