The Child Arrangements Programme, rather silently rolled out in April 2014, introduced the most radical changes to the way that disputes over children upon separation and divorce are dealt with at court since the abandonment of Custody Orders back in 1991.
Residence Orders and Contact Orders, that replaced the Custody Orders, no longer exist. The expectation now from the outset of a family breakdown is that children will continue to spend time with both of their parents and extended members of the family. The reforms put children right at the centre of the process with focus on children’s needs as opposed to parent’s perceived rights.
Child Arrangements Orders will determine with whom and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with, whether it’s the parents or any other person of significance in the child’s life.
The change of terminology aimed to steer parents away from ownership of Orders and focus instead on sorting out the practical arrangements for their children across two households.
Whilst the court doors will always be open for cases involving domestic violence and/or risk of harm to the child (drugs, alcohol, mental health issues etc) mainstream applicants will have to show that non court options have been considered at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before their application will be allowed to proceed.
The ‘No Order’ principle still applies where agreement can be reached, but where cases need court intervention, proceedings will be timetabled so that the dispute can be resolved as swiftly and as safely as is possible and in the best interests of the child.
Unfortunately, and often unintentionally, it is the children who bear the brunt of separation and divorce.
They witness their parents and other family members being upset. They may experience change of homes or change of schools and often have new adults introduced into their lives, sometimes with other children too. With so much change and adjustment going on the very last thing that children want or need is for their parents to be fighting about them.
At Sharp Family Law we always encourage parents to engage in constructive child focussed discussions whether in a Mediation, Collaborative or more traditional Negotiation setting. In addition, we offer access to a range of resources, parenting plans, books and factsheets in order to facilitate sound co-parenting decisions.