One out of two relationships today breaks down permanently and in many cases this involves children; infact, just under half of couples divorcing in 2009 had at least one child aged under 16 (of those, 21% had a child under the age of five and 63% had a child under the age of 11). Parents who end their relationships permanently worry about the effect of the new arrangement on their children. It is important for parents to remember that while they may be preoccupied with their own problems, they continue to be the most important people in their children's lives.
While parents may be devastated or relieved by the permanent ending of their relationship, children are invariably frightened and confused by the break-up of the family. Children can misunderstand what is going on unless parents tell them what is happening, how they are involved and not involved, and what will happen to them. With care and attention, however, a family's strengths can be mobilised during this period of change, and children can be helped to deal with the resolution of their parents' conflict in a constructive and positive way.
Children are known to most effectively cope with a separation if they know that their parents will still be their parents and remain involved with them even though the relationship is ending and the parents won't live together. Long custody disputes or pressure on a child to "choose sides" can be particularly harmful for the youngster and can add to the damage of the family break up. Research shows that children do best when parents co-operate on behalf of the child (see the CAFCASS leaflet entitled "Parenting Plans - Putting Your Children First: A Guide for Separating Parents" which can be downloaded free of charge from the CAFCASS website). In mediation, child consultations can be arranged giving children a voice in their parents' separation or divorce.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) safeguards and promotes the welfare of children involved in family court proceedings, such as when there is a dispute over residence, i.e custody. To minimise the trauma of bitterdisputes, the courts usually try to deal with cases concerning parents' contact with their children as quickly as possible. The court may ask the CAFCASS Officer or Social Services to consult both parties, as well as any children who are old enough to take part. After producing a report, the officer makes recommendations to the judge who then makes a decision based on all the circumstances of the case.
Your children may find it helpful to visit the following website about dealing with separation and divorce: www.actionforchildren.org.uk The CAFCASS website has a range of useful tools, publications and checklists to help you safeguard your child's emotional wellbeing throughout the family breakup.
Parenting plans are written documents that can help you to plan for your child's future after a divorce or separation. It is now possible to download Parenting Plans online - these encourage you to think about issues such as:
• Contact visits
• Communicating with your ex partner
• Children's surnames (if one partyremarries)
• Living arrangements
• Staying in contact
• Special days and holidays
• School and out-of-schoolactivities
• Religious and cultural upbringing
• Childcare arrangements
The consent of all those with parental responsibility is required if either party wants to take a child out of the UK - no matter how short the trip may be - unless a court gives leave.
If your child has been taken out of this country without your consent, or where there is a risk that this might happen, you should consult a solicitor specialising in this particular area of law.
You should also seek immediate advice in circumstances where your child is being kept out of this country for a longer period than you initially agreed.
The parent that the child lives with must have permission from the court if they want to take the child abroad permanently.
Reunite is a specialist charity dealing with parental child abduction and international custody disputes. Reunite's main objective is to provide a telephone advice line offering practical advice and information. Their advice is impartial and confidential to one or both parties involved in a dispute, though they are not able to negotiate on your behalf. Reunite provides specialist advice to lawyers and other interested professionals working in this area. They are able to put you in touch with a lawyer specifically trained in cases of child abduction and international custody disputes.
Children Effected by Separation
Counselling Advice for Separation
Financial Advice During Separation
Mediation Advice for Couples
Protection from Domestic Violence
Useful Contacts for Separation
Splitting Up when Living Together