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14 Aug 2020

Family & Matrimonial

Divorce: Keeping your child’s best interests at heart

Divorce is a highly stressful and emotional experience for everyone involved, especially for those who do not fully understand it. Whatever their age, children are often the ones who are most affected and they will all react in different ways.

As their parent, you will naturally worry about how the split will impact on them and will want to act in their best interests but we know that can be difficult. Our Head of Family and Matrimonial, Kate Thomas, gives advice on how to handle co-parenting and the legal routes you can take.

Making an arrangement

The ideal situation is that the responsibility of the child is shared equally between the two parents. The majority of families going through a divorce can settle the sharing of responsibilities among themselves without a written agreement. This is the ideal way of handling things as it causes minimum strain and stress on all involved.

However, we know that sometimes it is not that simple. Various factors can cause disagreements and if you cannot agree on a co-parenting method that suits you and your ex-spouse, then there are people who can help you reach an agreement.

Getting help

Mediation is one way of helping you and your ex-partner reach an agreement. A mediator can help you both to agree on child arrangements, without taking sides. One can be hired privately or you might be able to get legal aid for mediation if you are on a low income. The mediator can assist in arranging the details of how to look after your child, from where they’ll live, and how much time they’ll spend with each parent to child maintenance payments and the type of contact they’ll have with you both.

The purpose of the meeting is to agree on the child’s future and at the end of it, you will get a document showing what you agreed. This document is not legally binding but can be made so through a solicitor drafting a consent order for a court to approve.

In difficult circumstances

If you have proven that, even with mediation, an agreement cannot be reached, then you will need to apply for a court order before you go to court. The type of court order you need depends on what you and your ex-partner have been unable to agree on. There are two types;

  • Child arrangements order– Where your child lives, when your child spends time with each parent, type of contact with parents etc
  • Specific issue order – how your child is brought up, what school they attend, religious education etc.

You can also apply for a ‘prohibited steps order’ to stop the other parent from making a decision about the child’s upbringing.

Either parent can apply for a court order but it is advisable for both parents to have legal representation. You’ll both need to be prepared for the fact that it could take a number of court hearings before an agreement is made.

Child Maintenance

During these meetings to arrange co-parenting, the topic of child maintenance will come up. This is an arrangement between you and the other parent of your child which covers them until the age of 16 (or until 20 if they are in full time education). Discussions should be had to decide how your child’s living costs will be paid for when one of the parents no longer lives with them. Both parents are responsible for the costs of raising their children, even if they do not see them.

When making the arrangements privately, you are free to decide the amount one parent pays the other and there are free Child Maintenance calculators available online to give you an estimate of what you should be paying. Child maintenance is calculated from your income, number of children, time spent caring for the child, state support, and paying for other children (from another relationship) Within the payment discussions, you should also consider how you would like to pay e.g. fixed amount monthly, yearly, or a percentage of your earnings, or paying for specific items such as school uniform and holidays etc.

Child maintenance can be agreed through a court order arrangement but only in limited circumstances. These include if the parent lives abroad, to arrange the payment of private school fees, to work out how much child maintenance should be paid for stepchildren or disabled children, or when the paying parent has a very high level of income (more than £156,000 a year).

If you have been involved in a domestic abuse relationship with your child’s other parent, you are not obliged to make any kind of contact with them. The Child Maintenance Service or your solicitor can make all the necessary arrangements for child maintenance without disclosing any information that you do not want your ex-partner to know.

Let us help you

As a parent, we know there is nothing more important to you than your children. However, things can become emotional during the breakdown of a relationship and it can sometimes be difficult to act in a child’s best interests, even though that is exactly what you are trying to do. This is why it is so important to seek experienced legal advice as early as possible.

Our expert Family and Matrimonial team have extensive knowledge and expertise in childcare proceedings, coupled with the compassion and understanding that is essential in helping parents achieve the best outcome for their children.

If you are dealing with a domestic abuse divorce, then we can help with this too. Domestic abuse is a criminal act that ruins lives, and we are here to ensure that you and your children are safe and fully protected. We work in complete confidence and do all we can to understand your particular situation so that we can provide you with the best possible service.

Please get in touch today if you have any questions or concerns about getting a divorce and the impact it could have on your children. You can call our team on 01633 244233 or email us here.

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