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Child Arrangements – Back to School

back to school

Back to School, Back to Term Time Arrangements?

I can hear anyone who is involved in Summer holiday childcare asking when are they going back to school? Especially with the particularly British weather we have had this year. With the new Autumn school term approaching, is it time to look at the term time child arrangements?

 

You may have seen our previous blog articles, but if you haven’t, and you are wondering what are child arrangements? They are the legal term for where a child lives and spends time with either their parents, wider family members such as a grandparent or other person. This blog will focus on child arrangements with children and their parents.

 

What are Child Arrangements?

Child arrangements can mean different versions for what is considered suitable for the children. It can be face-to-face contact, which may or may not include overnight stays, day-time face-to-face contact, supervised contact or indirect contact such a telephone, video calls.

 

We will all be more familiar with video apps such as WhatsApp calls, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and Teams, since lockdown. This has been hugely beneficial for children to maintain relationships with family and other important people in their lives, especially if they live far away, or in a different country.

 

It may be that you have recently separated from your child(ren)’s other parent, or you have been separated for some time but there’s been some issues, perhaps with a lot of last-minute changes to handover arrangements or our child(ren) have asked for the arrangements to change slightly. With that in mind, how do you go about it?

 

Suggested Approach

If you and the other parent are able to sit down and have an amicable chat, when the child(ren) are not around, this is always best. It would be a good idea to raise it initially with them, so they do not feel ambushed, and suggest a mutual place (preferably not one of your homes), at a suitable time.

 

Be mindful that the arrangements need to work most of all for your child(ren), not just one parent over the other. Jot down some ideas of what works well at the moment, and start with this, it may be that you would like the other parent to spend some alone time with one of the children on the mid-week evening time, with it alternating so they each get some one on one time, that you might need the other parent to collect the child(ren) from the school on a certain day, or take them to their after school activities as you need to work or for another reason.

 

Remember to put yourself in the other parent’s shoes, if you can be empathetic to them this may help you to broach the issue more sensitively and avoid conflict between you.

 

Unless your child(ren) have raised this with you, it is probably best not to involve your child(ren). It puts too much pressure on them and can make them feel anxious at upsetting one of their parents.

 

Mediation

If either you cannot talk to the other parent, or when you try to talk to them you cannot reach an agreement, unless it is an urgent application, you will need to attempt mediation. Mediation can be helpful in reaching an agreement, with the help of a mediator, which works for your family, which may not necessarily be something that the Court would order.

 

It is important that any mediator is family law specialist. The mediator is neutral person, who assists you both to reach an agreement. Normally anything that is disclosed to the mediator should be disclosed to the other parent, but anything that is discussed in mediation is confidential and should not be disclosed outside mediation. Here are Clarke and Son, we have strong links to local family law specialist mediators, who can help you to reach an appropriate agreement.

 

If mediation is either not suitable, such as if there is safeguarding concerns or the other parent will not engage, you can either try to reach an agreement with the assistance of Solicitors, and at Clarke and Son, we follow the Resolution Code of Conduct, which aims at reducing conflict and to put the children first.

 

What happens at Court?

If a Court application is required, the Court will consider the application, list a first hearing called a First Dispute Resolution Hearing Appointment (FHDRA) where it will highlight any issues between you, and try and resolve these and reach an agreement.

 

It may be that the Court needs further evidence from third parties such as GPs, Local Authority (Children’s Services), or that the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS), are asked to carry out a report as the Court needs some further information before it can make a decision or for the parents to reach an agreement. This can be where there is a dispute where the child(ren) should live, go to school, or the time they should spend with each parent.

 

The first concern of the Court is the child(ren)’s welfare. The Court considers section 8 of the Children Act 1989 to help them reach a decision which includes:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child(ren);
  • The child(ren)’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
  • The likely effect on the child(ren) if due to the Court’s decision changed their circumstances;
  • The child(ren)’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics that will be relevant for the decision;
  • Any harm the child(ren) has suffered or may be at risk of suffering;
  • The capability of the child(ren)’s parents, or other relevant people, in meeting the child(ren)’s needs, and;
  • The powers available to the Court.

 

The Court starts with the presumption, unless evidence is shown to the contrary, that it is always beneficial to the child(ren)’s welfare for both parents to be involved with that child(ren) unless it is shown that to do so, the child(ren) would be at risk of suffering harm.

 

How long does a Child Arrangements Order last?

It is important to note, that if the parents live together continuously for six months or more after the Court makes the Order, the Order automatically ceases to have effect.

 

A Child Arrangements Order which sets out where a child(ren) is to live, and when, will last until that child is 18 years old unless the Court specify an early date. If a Child Arrangements Order sets out when a child(ren) will spend time with a parent, it will usually end when the child(ren) are 16 years old but can be extended until they are 18 years old in limited circumstances.

 

If you would like some more specific advice regarding your child arrangements, then get in touch with our Family Department for specialist legal advice on 01255 320 555 or email mail@clarkeandson.co.uk.

Jennifer Lee

Family Solicitor

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