Every week, we answer some of the most commonly asked family law questions we hear from our clients. This week: what happens to the children when parents split up

My partner and I have separated. We have two children together. Who gets to decide the arrangements for the children?

Neither parent automatically “gets to decide”. Wherever possible, arrangements should be worked out together, in the best interests of the children.

When parents are together, lots of arrangements for the children’s time are made as a matter of course, including things like holidays, after-school clubs, parties, outings with friends, or just the general school run. These things can sometimes take a back seat when a couple separate; often, parents can be left simply trying to arrange to spend time with their children in between their busy schedules.

It is always preferable for the parents to be able to sit down and discuss practically what arrangements will be made. If, for example, dad works full time and mum works part time, then it would seem practical for mum to carry on being the main carer, but with dad able to spend good quality time with the children on weekends and during the week if possible. If the roles are reversed, then suitable arrangements should be made according to the individual circumstances – there is no automatic presumption that mum should be the main carer.

What if our split was acrimonious, or I feel my partner’s proposals are unrealistic, and we can’t agree the arrangements between us?

If the parents are unable to agree on arrangements together, the next thing to try is mediation. If this is also unsuccessful, then the last resort is an application to court. Court proceedings are time consuming and costly, and can be very damaging to future relationships. For this reason, the courts would always prefer parents to make their own arrangements for children.

However, if pressed, a court will decide what is in the children’s best interests and make a legally binding order in those terms. This may not suit either parent, as this is the risk that you take in litigating over the children – it is always best to try and resolve matters between yourselves first.

We understand that court proceedings are daunting, and when they affect your children it can be very stressful. If you would like more advice, then please call us on (029) 2034 2233, or e-mail enquiries@wendyhopkins.co.uk, and we will do our best to help you.

Published: 02/03/12