This BBC article explores expressed concerns of the judiciary, that too often, separating parents rely on the courts to resolve issues regarding their children, and fail when trying to reach an agreement with each other. 

Separating parents are commonplace in modern society. During a separation, children are often confused and distressed following their change of routine and new family arrangements. Therefore, they need to be supporting during such times. The sooner an agreement is reached and a new routine is adopted - the better this is for the child.

The Children Act 1989 specifically provides at section 1, “When a court determines any question with respect to…the upbringing of a child…the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.” This is a clear message to the adults involved to set their feelings aside and focus on the needs of the child.

However, in many cases when emotions are running high at the outset of a couple’s separation, this child focus can be difficult to achieve.

The Children Act 1989 encourages parents to try to reach agreement about any issues involving the upbringing of their child without recourse to the judicial system. Indeed, the statute specifically provides that the court “shall not make the order unless it is satisfied that doing so will be better for the child than making no order all”.

If you are a parent being prevented from spending any time with your child, or spending the quality time with your child that you would wish to, consult a solicitor to see what options are available to you. It may be possible to reach an agreement through careful correspondence or supported mediation. If an agreement cannot be reached, advice can be provided on the other options available, including an application to the court or proceeding through arbitration. 

If you are a separated parent and have stopped, or are considering stopping your child from spending time with the other parent, it is also important that you consult a solicitor. Your decision will have consequences that may have to be justified both in court proceedings, and later in your child's life.

In certain limited circumstances, usually where there either has been a risk of or actual harm to your child or adults concerned, it may not be in your child's best interests to spend time with the other parent. These cases are exceptional and assessed on an individual basis.

Now that the annual, long summer holidays have begun, inevitably issues may arise over how your child shall spend the summer break and with whom. Will your child be taken on holiday, and if so, can that holiday be agreed between the parents? The better and earlier communication between parents is made, the easier such arrangements can be agreed. If agreement cannot be reached, an application can be made to court. However, such applications often take many months to resolve and may not be resolved in the timetable of the proposed holiday.

Once it is apparent that agreement cannot be reached, legal advice should be sought at an early stage to explore your available options. These options often include: mediation, solicitor negotiation, application to court and arbitration. The latter, often presided over by retired and/or very experienced family judges, can be a cost-efficient and speedy method to resolve these issues.

If you have any concerns, or need more information and advice, get in touch with a member of our national Family team in London, Bristol or Cardiff here.