Whether you are married, in a civil partnership or just living together, splitting up can be an emotional time. If there are children involved, the feelings of hurt and anger can be magnified.
However, this is the time when your children need you to be at your most level-headed. While it may not be possible in every case, settling issues such as where the children should live and who they should spend time with without appearing in front of a court can be the best way to re-start your separate lives, while maintaining as close to a family unit as you can.
Who has Parental Responsibility?
You may need to know one or two points of law before you begin discussions. If you’re coming out of a marriage, it’s important to remember that both parents have Parental Responsibility, if you were married at the time of the child’s birth. If you weren’t, Parental Responsibility is always automatically given to the mother. However, unmarried fathers will only automatically have Parental Responsibility if their name is on the birth certificate and the birth was registered before 1st December 2003.
Parents can agree to share Parental Responsibility at any time during their relationship or separation by signing a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
Agreeing on What to Discuss
Before you consider discussing the arrangements for the children, it’s advisable to talk with the other parent in a calm and reasonable manner. At this point, it should be remembered that whatever is decided must be for the benefit of the children, both in the short and long term. There will be several points to consider, including:
- With whom the children will live
- How you will ensure that the children spend reasonable time with both parents
- How holidays will be divided
- How the children will get to school and friends’ houses.
Making a Plan and Sticking to it
In the event that agreements can be reached, parents might want to record their decisions in the form of a Parenting Plan. While not legally enforceable, a Parenting Plan can be a good tool to help both parties adhere to what they initially agreed. The plan can be augmented in the future, should the need arise.
The plan can be turned into a legally-binding document, if you use the services of a Family Law solicitor. Making the plan legal can be an excellent way to protect the interests of everyone involved – particularly the children.
Not all parents are able to communicate in a calm and rational manner, especially if the separation has been acrimonious. Often the emotional impact of a separation can make face-to-face communication next to impossible. However, there are still options available, including text messages, emails, phone calls and even asking a mutual friend or family member to act as a go-between, until the relationship is in a better state.
You might want to consider using a mediator to resolve any issues you have. Mediators are not there to offer legal advice; they are there to encourage an environment in which both parents have the opportunity to raise their concerns, safely and without the stress of appearing in front of a court. Mediation is worth considering, as many courts may require evidence that a couple have been to mediation before they will deal with matters.