I let you know last time about the Children and Families Act 2014 which came into force on 22nd April 2014 and that there is now a requirement, prior to making an application for a court order in family proceedings, that the person who proposes to make the application must first attend a meeting to receive information about mediation and other means of resolving a dispute without going to court.
Such a meeting is referred to in the provisions as a ‘family mediation information and assessment meeting’. Only very few situations (such as having evidence of being a victim of domestic abuse) will now mean you are exempt from attending such a meeting, can pass ‘GO’, pay £215 and proceed directly to court. I can just see the episode of Eastenders, where, in the heat of a row the husband shouts, ‘I’ll see you … the family mediation and assessment meeting!’.
The old terminology if you do eventually reach court has changed too. You may (if you are as old as me!) recall discussion about ‘custody’ and ‘access’, which in 1989 was replaced with ‘Residence Order’ and ‘Contact Order’. In April we saw the new order now termed a ‘child arrangements order’ move to centre stage. There is now just one order which can deal with the arrangements concerning who a child should live with, i.e. who the child should spend time with and who the child should have other types of contact with.
Once in court, the judge or magistrate will set a timetable for how the case will proceed. They will always put the welfare of the child first. They will think about the:
- Child’s wishes and feelings
- Child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- Effect any changes may have on the child
- Child’s age, gender, characteristics and background
- Possible risk of harm to the child
- Ability of parents to meet the child’s needs
- Orders the court has the power to make
A Judge or magistrate will only make an order if they think it is in the child’s best interests.
They may also ask you to try again to reach an agreement – e.g. by going to a meeting with a mediator (a bit like being sent back to ‘go’ again). You may have to go on a course if your case is about contact issues. The course is called a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’, and could help you to find a way to make contact arrangements work. You usually have to go to two meetings. Your ex partner will also have to attend but won’t be at the same meetings as you. The hope is that you will find a mutually acceptable way to ‘co-parent’ your children.
In my work with clients it is a sad fact that some parents can lose sight of the needs of their children at the stressful time of a relationship breakdown and it is important to be reminded that our children need us to be parents even when we are angry with one another, under pressure financially or feeling low in ourselves.
I found some interesting research by a university who asked lots of children of separated parents to write a ‘wish list’ of how they wanted their parents who were separating to be and these were the responses:
- I need both of you to stay involved in my life. Please write letters, make phone calls, and ask me lots of questions. When you don’t stay involved, I feel like I’m not important and that you don’t really love me.
- Please stop fighting and work hard to get along with each other. Try to agree on matters related to me. When you fight about me, I think that I did something wrong and feel guilty.
- I want to love you both and enjoy the time that I spend with each of you. Please support me and the time that I spend with each of you. If you act jealous or upset, I feel like I need to take sides and love one parent more than the other.
- Please communicate directly with my other parent so that I don’t have to send messages back and forth.
- When talking about my other parent, please say only nice things, or don’t say anything at all. When you say mean, unkind things about my other parent, I feel like you are expecting me to take your side.
- Please remember that I want both of you to be a part of my life. I count on my mom and dad to raise me, to teach me what is important, and to help me when I have problems.
At Biscoes, we can help and guide you through the Court process and give you more information about what is most likely to happen in your particular case. Information about our services for families can be found on our website.