Christmas is important parenting time. When couples separate, it can be very difficult to reach an agreement on how that time with the children is shared fairly. Unfortunately, one or other party can lose sight of the fact that they should be putting the children and their needs first, and many other factors can come into play: guilt, jealously, emotional hurt, to name but a few, can be the drivers. A good place to start if there are difficulties in agreeing contact, is the Resolution Parenting after Parting workshops which are being run in the London area in evenings on weekends. You can find further information by calling in to our reception to collect a Parenting after Parting leaflet or online at www.resolution.org.uk/parentingafterparting.
Although your relationship may have ended, your role as a parent has not. In the early stages of separation, it can be helpful to behave with a businesslike attitude and try to separate your emotional feelings from discussions on matters concerning the children. Whatever your feelings are towards your ex-partner, you need to talk to them respectfully as the parent of your children. It is vitally important that the children do not witness conflict between their parents, and therefore any difficult discussions should not be held when they are in earshot, for example, at handover times or during telephone conversations.
If you are unable to reach an agreement amicably with your ex-partner, then Court should not be your next step. The adversarial nature of the Court process is stressful, lengthy and has not been found to benefit the children (and in addition, the costs are prohibitively expensive). If you need assistance in reaching an agreement with your ex-partner, then you should consider mediation or collaborative law. Collaborative law is a form of mediation where the parties and their lawyers agree not to go to Court and instead have meetings together around a table.
Of course, with the best will in the world, for some couples, sadly, there is no other option but to issue an application to Court for a Contact or Residence Order. If this occurs, the first hearing is most often a Conciliation Appointment hearing, which is again a form of mediation but this time with the assistance of the Judge and a CAFCASS Officer (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service). More information about CAFCASS can be found at www.cafcass.gov.uk and leaflets about CAFCASS are available from Osbornes’ reception.
The instigation of Court proceedings in some cases is the only option, but it is important to note that once that process is commenced, other people are involved and some of the decision making and control is taken away from the parties due to the nature of the Court process. This article can only give a very brief overview of the options available to parents in resolving matters concerning contact. We at Osbornes are firmly committed to putting our client’s needs first, listening to them, and guiding them through their choices and, most importantly, encouraging parents to put their children first.
Lisa Pepper is an Associate Solicitor at Osbornes and a qualified Collaborative Lawyer. She is a member of Resolution which is an organisation of 5,500 lawyers and family justice professionals who believe in a constructive, non confrontational approach to family law matters. She is Chairman of Young Resolution for London and a member of the Resolution London Region Committee and National Skills Committee. Lisa is a regular speaker at the London College of Law and mentors a student there each year. She can be contacted on 020 7485 8811 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.