Managing the Living Arrangements for Children after a Parental Separation

When parents separate, it can be hard for the parents and their children, too. There are many adjustments that need to be made and not everyone is happy about these all the time. In some situations, both the two parents come to an amicable agreement about how the children will be looked after, what access each parent has to the children and who makes the decisions about their welfare as they grow older.

However, there is always a potential for disagreements between separating parents about the living arrangements for the children and it is then that a lawyer with experience in family law can help the two parents negotiate a settlement that is in the best interests of the children or help them settle the matter in court when a court order will decide the arrangements on the behalf of the children.

It is also possible that arrangements may have to be changed, sometimes urgently – when personal circumstances of one or both parents alter.

What are the rights of parents and children after separation?

Both parents have a right to look after their joint children and make decisions about managing their welfare on a long-term basis. The children also have a right to be able to continue to have a meaningful relationship and spend time with both their mother and father after a separation. Of course, from a practical point of view, it is highly likely that the children will probably reside with one of the two parents as a base and then spend time with the other parent on a negotiated schedule.

Difference between ‘day to day’ living arrangements and ‘long-term’ arrangements

It would normally be accepted that the day to day living arrangements for children, e.g. what they eat, when they go to bed, school work etc. are likely to be made by the parent who is providing the main residential location for the children. It should be recognised that the other parent may also want to have some influence about these arrangements from time to time, even if the children are not actually living with him or her for most of the time.

Long-term living arrangements should be discussed between both parents and each parent should be able to influence any final decisions. This includes a change in school, attendance at special, being paid an allowance or pocket money.

Court orders are not necessary for deciding living arrangements for children

A court appearance and the issuing of a court order are not mandatory after a separation. It is usually a last resort when the two parents cannot come to an amicable agreement and there is the possibility that the children could suffer because of a disagreement between the parents which cannot be resolved by negotiation between themselves or through a mediator or counsellor.

A court order may help when there is a change in the attitude by one or other of the parents over an issue which is hard to resolve or the parent who provides the main place of residence for the children decides to move a long way away from the other parent and there is doubt about how much time will be available for contact between the children and the parent who has been left behind.

Specific issues arising over living arrangements for children

As children grow up there may be a number of decisions which need to be made about their living arrangements which may involve a disagreement between the two parents. This may include disruption to a schedule because of the way the access has been negotiated in the past. An example is when one parent has had access to the child or children during the week for a day or two and the other parent is concerned that this could disrupt their school work, especially as this becomes more important as the child gets older,

As there are many situations that could arise and it is impossible to forecast every one of them in advance, the best situation remains a  good level of communication between the two parents and a certain amount of give and take so that the child’s right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents is retained but the specific issues involved are also addressed.

As with all other situations concerning the living arrangements for children, if an amicable agreement cannot be made, mediation can be used with the help of a family law solicitor or in the event that an impasse is reached, the Family Law Court can be turned to so that a firm and fair decision can be made.

Does the Family Law Court favour the mother when it comes to making living arrangements for children?

The short answer is that there is no gender bias when the Court is asked to make a decision about living arrangements. The personal circumstances, as well as the wishes of the children, are taken into consideration and a final decision is made which puts the interests of the children first. In the event that both parents decide to change some of the decisions that the Court has made amicably between themselves later, this can be done and any court orders are still in force in case of a breakdown in communication or mutual informal agreement.

In all situations where there is a potential dispute between the parents at any stage after separation, contact with an experienced Family Law solicitor can help provide a satisfactory avenue for a resolution which is in everyone’s interest.