‘Where there is a dispute between parents over contact arrangements, it can be helpful to understand at an early stage how the court will consider the child’s welfare,’ says Julie Dann, an Associate Solicitor in the Family team with Warners in Sevenoaks. ‘If each parent can set out their expectations and be realistic about the compromises which can be made, it is more likely to lead to a positive outcome for the children.’
Julie Dann – Solicitor
The welfare checklist
The Children Act 1989 states that the welfare of the child must be the paramount consideration. When it comes to welfare, the Act stipulates a number of issues that should be taken into account, known as “the welfare checklist”. It is helpful to have these in mind, though some will undoubtably play more prominence in your own family circumstances than others.
The checklist stipulates the following considerations:
(a) the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings, considered in the light of their age and understanding; the older your child is the more weight a court would place on their own wishes and feelings about when they want to see each of their parents. It is important to ensure any wishes your child expresses are their true feelings on the matter and are not reflective of what your child thinks you want to hear. Depending on the age of your child, you may decide that they should be spoken to by someone independently, which will be done by direct discussion where an older child is involved and through play with a younger child. Any child should be reassured that they will not be in trouble or offend either of their parents by saying what they feel.
(b) the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs; both parents need to be mindful of any additional needs their child may have, and how these can be best met. For example, if one parent has typically taken charge of meeting additional medical needs, does the other parent now require some additional support or training to bring them up to speed in meeting those needs too.
(c) the likely effect of any change in circumstances; this will depend on the character of your child and could also be influenced by any additional needs they may have. For example, an autistic child may struggle with a change in their routine. Both parents need to work together to try and minimise this disruption to their child and to think ahead as to how changes can be best managed.
(d) the child’s age, sex, background, and any characteristics of which the court considers relevant; an older child will have a different level of independence and needs to a younger child. Arrangements for your children will likely have to change as they grow older in order to continue to meet their needs. Your child’s background can also come into play in what is best to meet their welfare needs, this includes their cultural background. For example, if your child has family that are from a different country, then it is important for them to be given the opportunity to explore and learn about that other country and its cultural traditions as they grow up. This can be an important factor when parents are from different cultural backgrounds.
(e) any harm which your child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; if issues of neglect or abuse have been a feature or concern, then a careful investigation into the potential safeguarding issues for your child will need to occur. In many of these situations it will be necessary to involve the local social services team. It is important to be aware that harm can occur to a child through them witnessing abuse of another, for example by seeing domestic abuse in the home.
(f) the capability of each parent to meet the child’s needs; if either parent has any disability or other issue which impairs their ability to look after the child, then consideration will need to be given as to how this can best be overcome in order that your child can grow up knowing each of their parents.
(g) the range of powers available to the court; the court is not restricted by the nature of the application; it is free to use its discretion, for example if one party applies for a lives with order, the court may grant a spend times with order instead.
Once you have considered the welfare factors, you then need to look practically at how suitable arrangements can be achieved. This will usually mean trying to agree with your former partner how contact will work.
How we can help
There are a range of options for contact, which can be either direct, as in face-to-face contact, or indirect via letter or electronic communications, and our solicitors can help you to agree suitable arrangements.
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