Lockdown has contributed to a spike in break ups and divorces around the country. Not only were most couples not used to spending so much time together, but everyone was also prevented from pursuing activities outside of their relationship including work, hobbies and socialising – a perfect storm.
A positive effect of lockdown however, was that many more couples were able to be more equally involved in their children’s day to day lives. However, this shift to more balanced parenting is now having an impact upon child arrangements, with both parents wanting their children to spend equal time with each of them, without necessarily putting first what is best for their children.
You must put your children’s needs first, and our advice would always be to try, where possible, and in the most age-appropriate way, to find out their views and feelings. A hostile marital breakdown is likely to have a hugely negative effect on the welfare and mental health of children, particularly adolescents, which can continue to have an impact upon them into adulthood. Children need to know they are loved beyond their parents’ separation, and not be a focal point of the disagreement, and if they are, that needs to be kept away from them.
But what if you and your partner can’t agree?
In the beginning, we urge our clients to discuss directly the future child arrangements with their former partner and if this is not possible, then to consider mediation. A mediator can help to neutralise the discussion, reduce the emotion in the room and ensure that the needs of the children remain the key focus throughout.
Court proceedings should be a last resort, as they can be clumsy, lengthy and costly and often cause parents to become more polarised, looking at matters from their perspective only. It will also mean that you and your former partner will no longer be in charge of the final decision.
If the court seems to be the only way forward, you would have to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), to evaluate whether mediation is in fact a possible option.
If proceedings are commenced, there can be a number of hearings and possibly the involvement of CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) adding to the delay in a resolution.
Another option is arbitration. This occurs outside of the court process and while the arbitrator’s fees will be an additional cost, it can be less costly than the courts in the long run, because it can lead to a quicker outcome. You would also know that the arbitrator is dedicated to your matter that day rather than having to juggle a number of matters as a judge usually has to do. An arbitrator’s decision would also be final in the same way as a judge and both are subject to very limited grounds for appeal.