Any parent going through a separation will worry about the impact on the children.  

Putting the children first 

Naturally, you're going to be worried about the way your separation will affect the children.  The way you talk to your children about it will have a real impact on how the children feel.  It can help them feel safe, secure and loved by you both.  It is easiest to manage this if you and your former partner can maintain a civilised working relationship.  Your job is to support your former partner and minimise the conflict.

Children have a right to love both their parents.  Your children are likely to be happier now and in the future if they have a good relationship with both their mum and their dad.  Blaming one parent for the split will be confusing and difficult for your children.  While your relationship with your partner might have finished, your joint role as mum and dad has not.

Agree arrangements if you can

I can’t tell you this often enough!  A fight in court relating to arrangements for children is the most stressful thing that can happen in a separation.  It is awful for everyone, including the children.  Unless one of you makes an application, the court won’t get involved and leaves the arrangements to the parents to sort out.  And since you know your children better than anybody else, including the judge, you are the best people to decide what the arrangements should be.

"What if we can't agree?" 

Making arrangements for your children can be very emotional which makes it difficult to agree.  Sometimes, simply a bit of time is needed to establish a civil working relationship in which the practicalities of child care can easily be discussed and agreed.

However, some couples find it difficult to agree even after a long while.  If you still cannot come to an agreement, then mediation may help.  This process lets you and your former partner talk through your problems together and work out solutions which are right for you and your family, with professional support. 

In some cases, counselling can be very effective and you can attend together or separately.  It can help to put things into perspective and make it easier to talk to your ex-partner. 

Although there will be some families that need court assistance, issuing court proceedings should be a last resort.

What factors will the Court consider? 

The law sets out a checklist of factors that must be considered during proceedings.  This list is referred to as the “welfare checklist” and means that the court must pay particular attention to:

the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his or her age and understanding)

the child's physical, emotional and educational needs

the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances

the child's age, sex, background and any characteristics that the court considers relevant

any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering

how capable each of the child's parents is of meeting the child's needs

the range of powers available to the court under the Children Act 1989 in the proceedings

The Children Act 1989 states that the child’s welfare must be the court’s paramount consideration. This means that nothing else is as important - not even a parent’s feelings or interests.

First Things First 

Support is available from various organisations for parents who have separated and want to resolve difficulties in agreeing child care arrangements.  Resolution offer Parenting After Parting workshops which aim to help parents manage the impact of their divorce or separation for their children.  You may wish to consider getting support from other organisations who provide information and guidance for parents in your situation. 

"What is the usual structure for child arrangements?" 

There are no rules to state how often a child should see their parent. Each family is different and so the arrangements will always be different, even if just in a small way.

Quite often a parent will see children on alternate weekends, so both parents enjoy leisure time with their children.  However, this will not work for all families.  Perhaps two weeks is too long for young children to wait before seeing that parent again.  More frequent visits may be more appropriate, even if it is just for a couple of hours at a time.  If you live far away from the other parent, midweek visits after school may not be practical.  Sometimes a weekend staying with one parent is too long for a very young child or baby to be away from their primary carer, so the duration of each visit could be built up gradually.