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Do I need a Child Arrangements Order?

An unfortunate side effect of relationship breakdown can often be a continued dispute over the child or children of the relationship and with whom they should spend time and when / for how long. Many couples can resolve these differences without reverting to the courts, but sometimes they have to get involved. Also, what if a grandparent feels that they too should see their grandchild but are prevented from doing so? If any dispute about arrangements for contact with children cannot be resolved without the intervention of the court, the plans for the children are set out in child arrangements orders.

Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order

Anyone with Parental Responsibility may apply for an order, as may a legal guardian. The court may make an order itself during any other family proceedings if it thinks one is necessary, and relatives without parental responsibility may also apply to the court for an order. Our team of experienced solicitors will guide you through every step of the way ensuring that you understand the process. An order may specify who the child lives with and what contact arrangements there are to be with for example the other parent.

This is just one small area of law where Farnfields’ Family Team can help you to navigate your way through the complex procedures and rules that govern this area of law. Contact us on (01747) 825432 or via our parent website www.farnfields.com to discuss your needs and find out how we could help you.

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How does Coronavirus affect contact with my children? 

In the Farnfields Family Team, we are aware that there is currently lots of conflicting advice about the arrangements for children to spend time with separated parents. We are here to help you and have brought together in this article guidance from CAFCASS and the Family Court.

The key points are:

Keeping a sense of routine will help your child to feel safe and secure. Whilst your child’s school may be closed, consider sticking to normal meal and bed times and any other family rituals your child takes comfort in – for example movie night or reading a book together before bed.

Unless there are justified medical / self-isolation issues, children should also continue to spend time with each of their parents. If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place this should be complied with unless to do so would put your child, or others at risk. This will help your child to stay in their normal routine, whilst also reassuring them that the parent they don’t always live with is safe and healthy.

If you can’t maintain your child’s normal routine, then communicate clearly and honestly with their other parent. If it is not safe for you to communicate directly (for example if there has been a history of domestic abuse) then consider using a trusted third party to help you.

Think creatively about how you can support your child to stay in touch with their other parent and family members during any period of self-isolation. Skype and Facetime can be great ways to catch up and can be used to read stories, sing and play together. With older children you could also consider a watch party – where you gather online to watch a movie or video, commenting and ‘reacting’ in real time.

If any court directed spending time arrangements are missed, think about how you and your co-parent may be able to ‘make up’ your child’s time after the restrictions are lifted. Remember, any rearranged spending time arrangements should always be for your child’s benefit and should not be used as a source of tension or conflict – especially at a time when your child is likely to be feeling anxious about the effects of the pandemic.

Be extra vigilant when making sure that children cannot hear discussions about the court case or any dispute you may have with your child’s other parent. This is particularly relevant now as they are at home and there may be court hearings by skype / telephone. Exposing children to these disputes can result in them feeling confused, having divided loyalties and may harm them emotionally.

Unless you or your child has an underlying health condition or other vulnerability, transporting them from one home to the other would usually be a legitimate journey (based on the current government guidance).

The President of the Family Courts in England has also issued some advice, which very much reflects the points made by CAFCASS, and emphasises that:

  • It is for the parents of a child subject to a Child Arrangements Order to decide whether it is safe to move any child between parental homes. The parent must make a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or another.
  • Where parents agree to temporarily vary any arrangements made by the court they are free to do so but should record the decision to do so in an email or text between themselves.
  • If an agreement about changes cannot be reached, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the Court-ordered arrangements would be against current Public Health advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.

If you would like any further advice or clarification, please do contact our Family team to discuss your specific requirements. We are here to help you.

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What rights do absent parents have if they come back into a child’s life after several years’ away?

The concept of a traditional family unit has changed, and, in some situations, this can give rise to problems. Figures from 2016 suggest that not only does it have a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of the family unit, but it has a financial impact too. According to the Relationships Foundation’s report ‘The Cost of Family Failure Index’, the economic impact of family breakdown in 2016 was higher than the UK defence budget, at an astonishing £48billion. That breaks down to an individual cost for each and every taxpayer of £1,820.

 

There are those that say once a parent (in the majority of cases, the father) has removed themselves from the family unit, they give up all rights and influence on how the children are then raised. However, that is not true, and even if a parent is absent for a prolonged period, they still have a right to influence how the children are raised. If the parent’s name is on the birth certificate, then they are deemed to have Parental Responsibility under the Children’s Act 1989.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is defined in law as being: “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. This is more focused on the parent’s duties and responsibilities towards the upbringing of the child, rather than their ‘rights’ over them.

In practical terms, it means that anyone with Parental Responsibility has a say in any decisions made about the child’s education, health, wellbeing and a host of other everyday decisions including:

  • where the child goes to school
  • choosing, registering or changing the child’s name
  • consenting to some medical treatment
  • access to the child’s medical records
  • giving permission for the child to spend extended time abroad
  • representing the child in legal proceedings
  • the religious upbringing of the child

What Parental Responsibility does not grant, though, is any automatic access rights to the child, especially if a court has granted sole custody to one parent, or the right to automatically know where the child is living.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

The system assumes (not always correctly) that it’s the mother who is best fit to bring up a child, so she automatically has Parental Responsibility. Married fathers also have it, and do not lose that right if they divorce the child’s mother. Unmarried fathers, however, do not automatically get that right, nor do step-parents or grandparents.

The only way an unmarried father can get Parental Responsibility is if they either marry the mother or obtain a Parental Responsibility Order from the court. There are other ways of getting this privilege, such as being named as the resident parent or becoming the child’s guardian, but a PRO is the usual method.

Are there any exceptions?

In 2003 the law changed to allow unmarried fathers to be given Parental Responsibility if they are registered on the birth certificate. There is also the option to re-register the birth to include the father’s name.

 

absent parents

What does all of this mean?

For absentee parents, the legislation is there for the benefit of the courts and certainly doesn’t provide families with any emotional support if a parent suddenly reappears after a long absence. It also doesn’t grant that absentee parent any ‘rights’ as such to make contact or have any major influence in the child’s life, outside of the individual clauses laid out by law. The biggest conflict usually centres around access, which in most cases needs to be determined either through mediation or through a court order.

The bottom line is that whether a parent is absent for six months or six years, the rights of both the mother (through Parental Responsibility) and the father do not change. In the majority of cases, access is the key issue and the most contentious one, but with a little bit of help from a family law expert or mediator, resolutions can be achieved. The welfare of the child must be the number one priority throughout the process, regardless of how long the absentee parent has been away, and both the courts and any legal representatives will always ensure that their interests are put first.

Contact our local experts Email us or call 01747 834209

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Enquire Today

Contact us and speak to one of our friendly experts.

Referral Form

Complete our referral form online or download a PDF copy.

 

Contact our local experts

Parenting

The question of surrogacy in the UK

It’s an area of family law that isn’t often discussed in public. Indeed, many people incorrectly think that it’s still illegal in this country. But surrogacy is an accepted practice in England and throughout the UK, as long as it isn’t done for profit. However, in June the Law Commission of England and Wales, along with the Scottish Law Commission announced that surrogacy laws were falling behind the times, were unfit for purpose, and need a complete overhaul. The intention with any review of the surrogacy laws is to ensure every party is fully protected throughout the process, including surrogates, intended parents and, of course, the child itself.

Surrogacy is recognised by the UK Government as a ‘legitimate form of building a family’, but apart from the ‘Thou shalt not make a profit’ clause, the rest of the legislation surrounding this incredibly sensitive and emotional issue is as clear as mud.

The Law Commission, therefore, has proposed legislation to allow the intended parents to become the child’s legal parents at birth, so long as the surrogate is allowed to retain a certain right to object for a short period after giving birth.

Currently, intended parents have to apply to the courts to become the child’s legal parents, and this isn’t granted until they receive a parental order. This process can take months (especially if there is a challenge to the request) and can cause considerable distress to both the intended parents and the surrogate.

Not fit for purpose

The current laws have been described by the Law Commission as ‘not fit for purpose’, and as more families are turning to surrogacy in the UK, it is essential that the legislation is brought into line with modern practices.

The consultation is designed to find out how to move the legislation forward, and ensure that everyone is properly protected, especially the child. The review is sweeping and also looks at such sensitive topics as egg donation, as well as the wider laws around surrogacy.

The proposal to review the surrogacy laws in the UK has been widely welcomed by family law experts, who wholeheartedly agree that a shake-up in the UK’s somewhat archaic legislation is well overdue. The proposal suggests that the current system should be a ‘pathway’ that aims to give greater certainty to intended parents, and to give the child a greater degree of stability from the moment it’s born. Other proposals include:

  • The creation of a new Regulator to ensure surrogacy organisations operate within the new pathway system
  • The removal of the requirement of a genetic link between the intended parents and the child where medically necessary
  • The creation of a national register so that surrogate children can access information about their origins, in much the same way as adopted children can do genetic searches on their background.

The Law Commission has held onto the fact that surrogacy organisations (those operations that organise surrogacy arrangements) should remain as non-profit operations to prevent any kind of ‘wombs for hire’ industry. While surrogate mothers can be paid a certain amount in ‘reasonable expenses’ at the moment, the law is very vague when it comes to defining exactly what a ‘reasonable amount’ actually is. Part of the consultation process would be to address this murky topic and provide a greater degree of clarity for both intended parents and surrogates as to how much money should change hands.

Bringing up a family is a tough business. Surrogacy adds a whole new level of complication to what is an already-challenging part of everyday life – bringing children into the world. Until the Law Commission’s findings are in, the current 1980s legislation remains in place, and the issue of surrogacy is still very much a background topic in family law. However, with more and more couples choosing surrogacy for whatever reason, it is an issue that has to be addressed to bring the legislation up to date.

If you are considering surrogacy but are unsure of your rights as either an intended parent or a potential surrogate mother, our advice is to talk to a specialist in family law, who can help you navigate your way through this sensitive and emotive issue.

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Enquire Today

Contact us and speak to one of our friendly experts.

Referral Form

Complete our referral form online or download a PDF copy.

 

Contact our local experts

Parenting

When can you let your kids fend for themselves?

If you’re a parent, you’ll be familiar with how long it takes to get your children ready to leave the house. Whether it’s setting up the pram for the baby, filling your bag with all the supplies you need or finding lost shoes, it can be a real pain to do anything quickly, especially if you have an appointment to get to, or shopping to buy. If only you could safely leave your child on their own and get those daily tasks done quickly. But where does the law stand with this?

Surprisingly, there are no specific laws in the UK governing when you are able to leave a child alone at home or in a car unsupervised. However, according to The Children and Young Persons Act 1993 and several other laws, it is a criminal offence if leaving them alone puts them at risk of harm, whether that is through an injury or poor health.

Personal judgment

Children mature at different times. One child may mature young and feel confident enough to be left alone and be happy for hours, whereas another may feel panicked at the prospect of even 10 minutes. When children panic, they can make dangerous decisions such as leaving the house or car to seek help, putting them in an unpredictable situation and possibly into unsafe public places.

Ultimately, it is down to the personal judgment of the parent or guardian as to what they deem to be appropriate and take adequate action to avoid the risk of any harm.

Helpful guidelines

The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) state the following guidelines:

• If your child is under 12, they should not be left alone for prolonged periods of time. This is because they are rarely mature enough to handle this situation at such a young age.
• Children under 16 can be left at home alone but should not be left by themselves overnight.
• Babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone, even for short periods.

A few questions to ask yourself

Every child is different, so to make things easier for yourself, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is this my only option? Is there a neighbour, friend, family member or facility that could help me?
2. Has my child ever been left alone before? If so, how did they react?
3. How long will I be leaving my child?
4. What would they do in case of emergency (fire, burglary, etc.)?
5. Do they have sufficient skills to keep themselves out of danger? Think about cooking, electrics, heavy objects, etc.

Think about the answers to these questions. Houses and cars are full of potentially harmful items, and children can get themselves into all sorts of trouble very quickly.

Other options

If you work:
Some companies give their employees childcare vouchers as a benefit, so it may be worth checking with your Human Resources department to see if this option is available to you.

While it’s still a new concept that is generally only offered by much larger companies, ‘in-house’ childcare is starting to gain popularity. It is becoming more commonplace for businesses to offer a creche facility or allow employees to bring children to work when they need to.

If you study:
Many colleges and universities offer options for parents to help them with childcare. Speak to student advisors and well-being counsellors to explore your options and see what is available.

Additionally, many schools offer extra childcare facilities such as breakfast clubs in the morning, stay and play or homework clubs in the evenings, and ranges of schemes over the summer and other school holidays.

Of course, nobody else knows your child’s maturity level better than you. It’s safe to say that if you have a baby or young child, you should never even consider leaving them alone.

If you regularly have to leave your child alone, or you are just not sure about how these rules apply to your situation, consult a family lawyer for further advice.

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In the Farnfields Family Team, we are aware that there is currently lots of conflicting advice about the arrangements for children to spend time with separated parents. We are here…

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It’s an area of family law that isn’t often discussed in public. Indeed, many people incorrectly think that it’s still illegal in this country. But surrogacy is an accepted practice…

Read more  

Enquire Today

Contact us and speak to one of our friendly experts.

Referral Form

Complete our referral form online or download a PDF copy.