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Who gets the children? A quick, simple guide to child arrangements

During a separation or divorce, one of the key things that most families will want to confirm is arrangements for the care of children by both parents and their future living arrangements.

Establishing this is a key principle of family law, which always aims to put a child’s best interests first, by maintaining a good, close and loving relationship with both sets of parents.

Of course, given the animosity of some relationships and the complex structures of many modern families, this can be challenging to achieve.

Here, Mander Hadley’s Stuart Daniel, who specialises in family law, provides a quick guide to understanding the basics of child arrangements.

What are child arrangements?

A child arrangement is a plan, schedule and commitment agreed upon by both parents to enable the child to maintain a strong relationship with both their parents and, in some cases, with extended family members as well, such as grandparents, uncles and aunties.

An effective child arrangement should seek to capture all of the events that a family may encounter during their regular day-to-day lives, as well as special events throughout the year.

By agreeing to a plan parents can reduce the chance of conflict which could lead to undue stress on a child.

What should a child arrangement or parenting plan include? 

Child arrangements should have a degree of flexibility to make sure the needs of a child can be met easily and without further conflict between parents.

As well as working in the best interests of children, it must, to some degree, work practically for both parents.

If it does not then there is no incentive for either party to agree to, implement or stick to the arrangements.

A plan should outline the objectives of the agreement and detail which parent the child is to live with and how much time the child should spend with the other parent, or perhaps specify that the child will live with both parents if a shared care arrangement is deemed to be appropriate.

This could include:

  • Where the child sleeps on different days
  • How events, such as birthdays or parents’ evenings will be organised
  • How parents will communicate about the child’s needs
  • Health arrangements
  • Holidays and travelling abroad
  • And much, much more.

How to reach a child arrangement

Parents have many options to reach and agree upon a child arrangement, but the most common are as follows:

Family mediation – This requires the engagement of an impartial family mediator who will collaborate with both parents to confirm a parenting plan. Decisions are reached with the assistance of a trained mediator, who will keep the best interest of the child in mind and seek to find the best possible solution. Agreements reached this way are not legally binding.

Arbitration – If it is not possible to reach an agreement via mediation or if trust is passed the point where an agreement can be easily reached, using an arbitration service may be suitable for some couples. An arbitrator will act as an independent ‘judge’ to find the best solution for both parties, without the need to take matters to court.

Collaborative law – Many parents choose to seek independent legal advice and can reach an agreement by sitting down with their lawyers to flesh out a plan that protects the rights of each party and the best interests of the child.

Agreement via the courts – In some cases, it may be necessary for parents to take matters before the courts to settle a disagreement. Despite the perceptions of many, this is often seen as a final option by many solicitors who favour a less combative approach.

It is important to seek legal advice regardless of which of the options you choose to take to reach a child arrangement. For help and advice on all aspects of family law, please get in touch with us now.

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