When parents separate the relationship between them can become strained, as disputes escalate over finances, property and children. If the disputes over child arrangements and contact cannot be amicably resolved the courts may need to intervene to find a solution. In these circumstances there are some ‘Do’s & Don’ts’ that the parties should think about to ensure the best outcome for all those involved.
Always consider the best interests of your children
This is exactly what a court will do. The parents’ desires are secondary and the welfare of the children is always the court’s primary consideration.
The court’s view is that a child has a right to a relationship with both parents. If one parent is ‘unreasonably’ preventing contact this will not be viewed favourably by the court. When a case is heard in court, denial of contact to a parent is rare unless this contact puts the child at risk. In fact, in most cases contact will be frequent and substantial.
Ask for help
When parents cannot agree arrangements for their children and when talking to each other is difficult, trained mediators are available to help find a solution. Mediators are professional relationship counsellors who will offer un-biased advice on how to reach an agreement, and explore the options available to both parents. Past experience shows that court imposed orders work less well than agreed arrangements made by the parents. In any event, couples must attempt mediation before making an application to court, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Support your child
Your child needs to understand what is happening to them and their family. Parents should never make a child feel they have to choose between them – the damage this can cause may be irreversible. The child needs to understand that even though their parents are separating he/she is not being separated from either of them.
Understand what your child wants
If your child is at an age where they can understand what is happening to the family, ask them what they want, and listen to and respect their opinion.
Keep a diary of events
When relations are under strain it is sometimes useful to keep a diary of events. The diary could include times and dates of contact, arguments and dispute, what has worked well and why, and details of any gifts or money given to either the child or the parent. But remember to keep it honest!
Avoid turning your child against their other parent
Clearly this is not good for a child’s emotional wellbeing. Now recognised in UK courts, there is also the concept known as Parental Alienation, which highlights parents attempting to influence or manipulate a child into believing bad things about the other parent. Parental alienation is not viewed positively by the courts.
Avoid using financial issues as a reason to prevent contact
Child maintenance and parental contact are not linked in the eyes of the court. Even if no maintenance is being paid this is not a valid reason for one parent to prevent contact by the other. Child maintenance matters need to be dealt with via the Child Maintenance Service.
Avoid discussing care and contact arrangements in front of your children
If you and your partner have differing views on future arrangements these should not be discussed in front of the children involved. This will have a negative impact on the child’s emotional wellbeing.
Avoid making false accusations
Any allegations and complaints which come to light in child arrangement disputes may be investigated by the court. If these are proved to be false the accuser may find their case has been undermined, and the final outcome may be affected if the court finds that there has been dishonesty in the evidence.
Avoid posting or discussing your case on social media
Not only will this attract the disapproval of the judge, it could also amount to contempt of court if you reveal confidential or sensitive information. This is likely to aggravate what will already be a difficult situation. Personal attacks about the character of the other parent, or the competency of the professionals involved in the case, could also be libellous and result in civil proceedings and a claim for compensation being brought against you.
Avoid gathering evidence against your partner in an underhand way
Evidence that is obtained in a deceitful or illegal way may not be permissible in court, and the court may react badly to the parent who submits it. In the case of M v F  EWFC 29 a father used hidden bugs in his daughter’s clothing to record conversations with her mother, as well as her meetings with social workers. The view of the court was that this showed the father to be unable to meet his child’s emotional needs, and also his distrust of child care professionals. The child’s mother was subsequently awarded custody.
At Bretherton Law we know that it can be stressful and complicated when relationships break down, so turning to an experienced Family or Child Law Solicitor is the sensible choice. We have been helping families with changes in their circumstances for over 50 years, and have built an enviable reputation for our professional service and honest advice.
Call us on 01727 869293, or make an appointment via our website.