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How do you split up when you have a child?

 

When a child is involved in a relationship breakdown, the stakes are high, and the emotional toll can be profound.

It's not just about two adults going their separate ways; it's about a little life caught in the midst of a potentially toxic relationship coming to an end.

From understanding the emotional impact on children to establishing effective co-parenting strategies, we'll explore the essential steps and considerations for parents facing this challenging situation.

Legal considerations of separation

Navigating the legal aspects of separation, such as court processes, separation arrangements, and divorce, can be daunting. It's crucial to understand your rights and responsibilities to make informed decisions. Whether you're drafting a separation agreement or going through a divorce, legal advice is invaluable.

When making legal decisions, consider the long-term impact on your child.

Court proceedings can be stressful for children, so it's often better to settle disputes through mediation or collaborative law.

This approach can foster a more amicable post-separation relationship, benefiting your child.

When your relationship ends and you have children, you should consider the following legal issues:

Child Arrangements Order

This is an agreement that specifies who the child will live with, spend time with and have contact with. It can also specify when these terms should take place.

Parental responsibility

Both parents usually retain parental responsibility after separation unless a court order changes this. Parental responsibility includes making decisions about the child's education, health, and welfare.

Financial support

The non-residential parent is usually expected to contribute to the child's upbringing financially. This is often arranged through Child Maintenance Service.

Property and housing

Decisions need to be made about who will stay in the family home and how property will be divided.

Mediation

If parents cannot agree on arrangements, they may need to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before they can go to court.

Court orders

If parents cannot agree on arrangements, they may need to apply for a court order, such as a Child Arrangements Order.

International considerations

If one parent wishes to move abroad with the child, they will usually need the consent of the other parent or a court order.

Unmarried couples

When unmarried couples with children split up, they should be aware of Schedule 1 claims for maintenance as well as issues such as property rights, parental responsibility, Wills and inheritance.

To speak with one of our experienced family law team about your situation, get in touch here.

Communication during separation

With children

What and how you tell your children about your separation is important .

Children are incredibly perceptive, and even if they don't fully understand the situation, they can sense when something is wrong.

It's essential to communicate with them in a way that is age-appropriate and reassuring.

Some tips for effective communication during separation include:

  • Be honest: older children will appreciate honesty from their parents, so it's important to be truthful about what's happening without going into too much detail.
  • Reassure them: let your child know that the separation has nothing to do with them and that they are loved by both parents.
  • Listen to their feelings: children may have a lot of emotions during this time, and it's important to validate their feelings and provide a safe space for them to express themselves.

Children remember important events in their lives and carry them into adulthood. You should consider that fact at every stage of your separation journey.

When discussing the separation with your child, use age-appropriate language and be honest, yet reassuring.

It's important to talk about the changes they may experience and address any concerns they might have. Ensure that both you and your ex-partner are consistent in your messaging and show a united front, even in separation, to provide stability and security for your child.

Communication with the other parent

Effective communication is key during separation, especially when it comes to discussing arrangements with the other parent. It's essential to maintain a respectful and civil discourse with a former partner for the sake of your kids.

Avoid speaking badly about your ex-partner in front of the child, as this can create confusion and distress.

When there is a child involved there are some complex legal issues to address, from finances to living arrangements, you should approach this in a responsible way.

Establishing a parenting plan

A parenting plan is a practical tool that helps manage the complexities of co-parenting.

It should cover all aspects of your child's life, ensuring their needs are met and that the other parent plays an active role. Key areas to decide on include living arrangements, education, healthcare, and how to handle holidays and special occasions.

Involving a family member or mediator can be helpful in creating a fair and balanced plan.

The focus should always be on what's best for the child, considering their needs, preferences, and wellbeing. The plan should also be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and the evolving needs of your child.

Living arrangements

Detail where the child will live on a regular basis and how changes will be managed.

If possible, try to maintain stability and consistency for the child by keeping them in their familiar environment.

You should also consider a schedule for transitions between homes, taking into account how you deal with school schedules and any extracurricular activities the child may have.

Education

Outline who will be responsible for attending parent-teacher meetings, making decisions about schooling, etc.

It's important to communicate regularly with your ex parent about your child's progress and discuss any necessary adjustments to the plan.

Healthcare

Discuss who will make medical decisions for your children and how these decisions will be communicated to both parents.

Ensure that both parents are aware of any medical conditions or allergies and have access to all relevant information, such as medication schedules.

Holidays and special occasions

Plan where your kids will spend holidays, birthdays, and other significant events.

While this can be difficult after you separate, you and your ex partner should reach an agreement in advance about how to make sure that such events remain a special time for your children.

Financial Concerns

Describe how financial responsibilities will be divided. Child maintenance,  school fees, and other related costs must be decided upon.

The goal is to ensure that the child's needs are met and that you and your partner contribute any money, fairly.

It's essential to keep financial discussions separate from any emotional issues, as this can lead to unnecessary conflict.

Communication between parents

Determine how and when you will communicate about matters concerning your children. This can be through email, text, or phone calls and should include how often you will check in on the child when they are with your ex partner.

The key to effective communication is to remain respectful and focused on your child's needs.

Dispute resolution

Describe the agreed upon process for resolving disagreements that may arise regarding the plan. It's a good idea to seek legal advice and ensure you are aware of the process should a dispute happen.

Visitation rights

Detail when and how the non-residential parent will visit your children once your marriage has ended.

Ensure that you have discussed logistics, such as transportation and drop-off/pick-up arrangements.

It's also important to consider how you will handle changes to the schedule due to unforeseen circumstances, for example, a change in job, location or illness.

Financial considerations

Discussing financial support and child maintenance is a crucial aspect of separation. Both parents have a responsibility to contribute to their child's upbringing.

This may include direct financial support, such as child maintenance payments, and indirect support, such as providing clothing, school supplies, and other necessities.

It's important to be transparent about financial situations and come to a fair agreement.

If you're managing your own money for the first time after separation, seek advice to ensure you're making informed decisions. Remember, the primary goal is the welfare and stability of your child.

Dealing with domestic abuse in a relationship

If you've experienced domestic abuse in your relationship, it's essential to seek support and advice immediately. Domestic abuse can have profound and long-lasting effects on both you and your child. There are many organisations and services that offer help and guidance to ensure your safety and wellbeing.

Remember, leaving an abusive relationship is a brave and necessary step towards a healthier life for you and your child. Ensure that any parenting plans or legal arrangements prioritise the safety and emotional health of your child.

Life after separation

Life after separation can be a time of significant adjustment. It's important to focus on rebuilding your life and providing a stable, loving environment for your child. Spend time with friends and family for support, and engage in activities that promote your wellbeing and that of your child.

Remember, your ex-partner will still be a part of your child's life. Maintaining a cordial relationship, where possible, is beneficial for your child. This period is also a process of self-discovery and growth, an opportunity to build a positive future for you and your child.

The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice and are provided for general information purposes only. The contents are copyright of Lee Bolton Monier-Williams LLP. All rights reserved.