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Putting the Children's Needs First

Putting the Children's Needs First

Separation or divorce is undoubtedly a difficult transition for any family. A combination of financial and domestic concerns, along with a multitude of strong feelings can sometimes mean that the children's interests fall by the wayside. One of the biggest concerns will often be how to share care of the children. Sometimes, this can be decided amicably, possibly with some help to facilitate arrangements being made. However, parents do not always feel they can sit down together to determine childcare arrangements.

If parents are unable to come to an agreement, they may seek legal advice and begin issuing threats of court action. Court actions can be costly, time consuming, and can often aggravate existing tensions. Usually parents are best positioned to make arrangements in relation to their own children. The children's interests should be at the forefront of any separation, and approaching the court in these matters should be viewed as a last resort.

Techniques to help you

Relationships Scotland has suggested that, where both parents are willing to sit down and discuss matters, it may be useful for them to treat each other as if they were in a 'business relationship'. They should talk as if they are negotiating with each other and have the joint aim of coming to an amicable agreement in relation to the children's upbringing. If your children can see that their welfare matters to you above all else, it will put their minds at ease and assure them that, although you may not live together anymore, you will still communicate.

Where parents don’t feel they can sit down together and discuss matters, there are alternative methods other than court action that are worth considering.

One of the options which could be explored is mediation. Mediation is an effective way for parents to try and agree arrangements in relation to the children. Both parents will be present along with an impartial, trained individual whose aim is to focus the discussions between the parents in relation to their children's needs and look to future arrangements for the children.

At Thorntons, we offer the option of mediation, along with other alternative measures to the court route such as collaborative law and arbitration. Specialist trained solicitors offer these services with a view to helping parents, deal with the issues that arise with separation and ensuring that, where possible, parents are the ones determining what their children need.

Mediation can also be provided by Relationships Scotland

Another option to help you come to an arrangement for your children is Parenting Apart. This is a service that was recently introduced by Relationships Scotland. The focus of these sessions is for separating parents to consider the best way to approach living apart and more particularly, the needs of the children.

Once you have decided the best way for your family to discuss arrangements, there are a few important things you should consider.

Issues to consider

One of the most important things to decide is where the children will live. There is no right answer to this, and you should consider what works best for your family’s circumstances. It is often the case that families will operate on a fortnightly schedule, with each parent spending several nights with the children in their respective homes.

Recently, an innovative approach called ‘bird nesting’ has appeared in the press. The idea supposedly originated in the US and has recently made its way over to the UK. This arrangement involves one parent and the children staying in the family home during the week, and the other parent moving in at weekends, during which time the first parent moves out. The benefit of bird nesting is that it allows for some stability to be put in place for the children, rather than having them spend their weekends possibly travelling across the country and beyond. Furthermore, this arrangement could help relieve some of the financial strains on parents in that they won't have to make sure there are two sets of toys and clothes in two different locations.

Of course, ‘bird nesting’ will not be a suitable arrangement for all separating couples and it is only one example of several possibilities parents may consider.

Another important consideration is the age and lifestyle of the children. Young children tend to need a routine, whereas teenagers should be allowed to have some flexibility and independence, and not feel like they are being forced to spend time with their parents. When setting up a shared care arrangement, this should be at the forefront of your mind.

You should also consider your child’s opinion on any arrangements. Parenting can be a difficult task at the best of times, and the added pressure of separation may make parents feel the need to have complete control of the situation in relation to their children. However, being open and talking to the children, especially teenagers, and acknowledging their views can help in their understanding of the situation and make it an easier transition for them. If they are mature enough, you should listen to your children’s desires about arrangements, and try to accommodate these as much as is practicable.

Moving on

If an agreement can be reached out-with the courts, parents may wish to formalise the agreement with a solicitor, by way of a Minute of Agreement.

An agreement can set out not only care arrangements, but also financial elements in relation to the separation. This would help ensure that the other party sticks to the terms agreed, and provide a level of certainty within day to day life.

At Thorntons, we have a dedicated and experienced Family Law team. For more information on agreeing child care arrangements during a separation or divorce please contact a member of the Family team on 03330 430150.

About the authors

Lynne Sturrock
Lynne Sturrock

Lynne Sturrock



Catriona Kemp
Catriona Kemp

Catriona Kemp

Trainee Solicitor

Commercial Litigation

For more information, contact Lynne Sturrock or any member of the Family team on +44 1382 309212.