A child arrangements order is an order setting out with whom a child will live and what contact a person, usually a parent, will have with the child.

Child arrangements orders are usually made because the parents are not able to sort out arrangements for their children between themselves, and need to have the court sort them out for them.

But sadly parents don’t always adhere to the terms of child arrangements orders.

There are various ways in which an order may be breached.

The order may say the child lives with one parent but the visiting parent refuses to return them.

Or perhaps the parent with whom a child lives refuses to allow the other parent contact with the child, as set out in a contact order.

Or the breach may relate to a detail in the order, for example a parent with contact not returning the child to the other parent at the set time.

So what do you do if a child arrangements order is breached?

Reporting a breach to the court

Before doing anything else you should try to discuss the matter with the other parent. There could be a valid reason, and you might solve it through agreement.

It may also be possible to resolve the matter by coming to an agreement through solicitors.

But obviously it is not always possible to resolve the matter by agreement. You can report to court by applying to enforce the child arrangements order in such a case.

In the application you will explain how the order has been broken, and ask the court to enforce the order.

You can request compensation for financial losses incurred due to non-compliance, like travel expenses for missed visits.

What happens when a breach is reported?

Before it takes any action, the court will want to know why the order was not complied with. Reasons may exist, or the court may adjust the order to resolve issues.

Without valid reasons, the court can take steps to enforce compliance with the order.

If it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a person has failed to comply with the order without reasonable excuse then the court may make an enforcement order, imposing on the person an unpaid work requirement, of between 40 and 200 hours.

The court may also order compensation to the applicant from the breaching party, as previously mentioned.

And in severe cases, the court can fine or imprison the individual breaching the order.

Another option where there have been persistent breaches of an order by the parent with whom the child lives, and where it is appropriate, is for the court to order that the child move to live with the other parent.

Expert advice

The above is only a very brief introduction to the subject of enforcing child arrangements orders.

If you believe that a child arrangements order has been breached then it is strongly recommended that you seek expert legal advice, at the earliest opportunity. We can provide you with that advice. For more information about child arrangements orders and how to get in touch with us, see this page.

Adopting a child can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things anyone can do. But what is involved in adopting a child in England and Wales and how do you adopt a child?

First, we must consider adoption types and eligibility requirements.

Two type of adoption

There are two types of adoption: adoption though an adoption agency and non-agency adoption.

Agency adoption is where the child is placed with the prospective adopter by an adoption agency. The child may be voluntarily placed for adoption or removed due to welfare concerns. The agency will need to approve the prospective adopter before the child is placed with them.

A non-agency adoption is essentially where the child is already known to the prospective adopter. Examples include step-parent adoption, adoption by close relatives, and adoption by local authority foster carers.

Who can adopt?

Anyone aged twenty-one or over may apply to adopt a child. The application may be made by one person or by a couple. One parent must be at least eighteen, while the other must be twenty-one or older.

In most cases, the child must have had their home with the prospective adopter for a minimum period before the application can be made (the ‘residence requirement’). The length of the period depends upon who is applying for the adoption order.

For example, if the child was placed with the applicant by an adoption agency then the child must have had their home with the applicant(s) at all times during the period of ten weeks preceding the application, and in the case of a step-parent adoption the child must have had their home with the applicant(s) at all times during the period of six months preceding the application.

The adoption process

The agency adoption process begins with the prospective adopter(s) contacting the adoption agency. Once they have been approved and matched with a child they may apply to the court for an adoption order.

In non-agency cases the prospective adopter must notify the local authority in writing of their intention to apply for an adoption order, at least three months before the application is made. The local authority will then investigate the matter and prepare a report for the court. After a three-month notice period, prospective adopters can apply to the court for an adoption order.

The court requires parental consent or may dispense with it for the adoption order to proceed. Consent can be dispensed if parents are unavailable, incapable, or if child welfare necessitates dispensation, per court discretion.

The court process is similar for all types of adoption. It begins with the completion of an application and usually involves at least two hearings: the final hearing and before that a preliminary directions hearing, when the court will consider what needs to be done before the final hearing, such as what steps should be taken to find a birth parent if their whereabouts are not known.

The court will make the adoption order if it is satisfied that that is the best thing to do for the welfare of the child. The adoption order will give parental responsibility for the child to the adopters or adopter, and takes it away from the child’s birth parent or parents.

How long does it take to adopt a child?

How long it will take to adopt a child can vary greatly, and will depend upon a number of factors. (The following time estimates do not include the residence requirement, referred to above).

If the adoption is through an agency the adoption approval process will normally take about six months. After that the prospective adopter(s) will be matched with a child for adoption, a process that usually take between six and twelve months, but can take longer. Finally, there is the court process of the adoption application, which will usually take about six to nine months.

In the case of a non-agency adoption there is the three month notice period before the application can be made, as mentioned above. Once the application is made the court process will again usually take about six to nine months.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our adoption page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

When parents separate they will obviously need to sort out arrangements for where their children will live and what time the children will spend with each parent. Hopefully, they will be able to sort out these arrangements by agreement, but if that is not possible then they may need to ask the court to sort out the arrangements for them. This is done by applying to the court for a child arrangements order.

What is a child arrangements order?

The power of the court to make child arrangements orders is set out in the Children Act 1989. The Act defines a child arrangements order as “an order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following—

(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and

(b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person”.

So the order will essentially set out what time the child will spend with each parent.

The order will generally last until the child reaches the age of sixteen.

Note that there is no particular distinction between ‘living’, ‘spending time’ or ‘having contact’ with a parent. Thus the order can be anything from the child spending equal time with each parent, to the child living with one parent and just having occasional contact with the other parent, or even having no contact at all.

And contact can be visiting or staying, direct and/or indirect, unsupervised or supervised.

‘Staying contact’ refers to contact whereby the child stays with that parent overnight, whereas ‘visiting contact’ refers to contact during the daytime, with the child returning to the other parent at night time.

‘Direct contact’ is where the child actually sees that parent, whereas ‘indirect contact’ refers to contact via indirect means, such as letter, telephone, email, text message, and so on. Note that contact can be both direct and indirect, with the child having indirect contact in between direct contact visits.

Lastly, supervised contact is where there are concerns over the parent having direct contact with the child, so the contact visits are supervised by someone trustworthy, for example a relative, or a supervisor at a child contact centre.

How does the court decide what order to make?

So now that we know what a child arrangements order is, the next question is: how does the court decide what order to make?

The overriding principle is that the child’s welfare is be the court’s ‘paramount consideration’. In other words, the court’s decision will be what it considers is best for the welfare of the child.

The court presumes it’s best for the child’s welfare that both parents are involved, unless proven otherwise.

The Welfare Checklist

To determine the child’s welfare, the court considers a ‘welfare checklist,’ prioritizing factors crucial for their best interests. These factors include:

1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned, considered in the light of the child’s age and understanding. Thus, generally speaking, the older the child the greater weight the court will give to the child’s wishes. And there can come a point with an older child when their wishes will actually determine the outcome.

2. The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs. It may be that the child has some special needs, and that one of the parents is best suited to meet those needs.

3. The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances. Thus, for example, if the child is living with one parent and the court is considering making an order that they should move to live with the other parent then obviously that move court have a serious effect (good or bad) upon the child.

4. The child’s age, sex, background and any of their characteristics which the court considers relevant. These days the sex of the child is less likely to be relevant to the outcome of the case, but such things as their religious beliefs and particular interests could be.

5. Any harm which the child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering. Obviously, this would have a very significant bearing upon the outcome.

6. Lastly, how capable each of the parents is of meeting the child’s needs. This will cover not just parenting skills, but also practicalities such as work commitments, which obviously could have a bearing on the capability of the parent to meet the child’s needs.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Child Arrangements page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

‘Parental rights’ is a term in common usage, but it relates to what is probably one of the most common misunderstandings in the area of family law’

Because there is in a sense no such thing as ‘parental rights’, at least so far as the law in England and Wales is concerned.

That may come as a surprise to many. Surely, parents have rights over their children, don’t they?

Well, not exactly.

Exploring the key legislation concerning children helps to explain this concept. We are referring to the Children Act 1989.

Parental responsibilities not rights

Prior to the passing of the Children Act the idea of parental rights was in fact central to family law in England and Wales, with terms such as “parental rights and duties”, the “powers and duties” of a parent, and the “rights and authority”” of a parent featuring in various statutes.

The creators of the Children Act recognized the inaccuracy and misguidance in referring to ‘parental rights’. The powers which parents have to control or make decisions for their children are simply part of their parental responsibilities. To refer to the concept of “right” in the relationship between parent and child is therefore likely to produce confusion.

Accordingly it was decided to replace the idea of ‘parental rights’ with the new concept of ‘parental responsibilities’. The term was considered to mirror the daily reality of parenting, highlighting the responsibilities of those in that role.

One further advantage of this change was that the same concept could then be employed to define the status of local authorities when children have been committed to their care. This emphasizes the ongoing parental responsibility of the local authority, even when the child resides at home.

Returning to the post’s subject, the relevant question is not ‘what are parental rights?’ but ‘what is parental responsibility?

What is parental responsibility?

Somewhat confusingly, the Children Act defines ‘parental responsibility’ as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

This definition is confusing both because it still includes the word “rights”, which seems to contradict the idea of ‘parental responsibility’, and because it doesn’t actually state what the rights, duties, powers, and responsibilities are.

It was in fact a positive decision not to state what the responsibilities of a parent are. For one thing it would be difficult if not impossible to list all parental responsibilities, and for another parental responsibilities can change to meet different needs and circumstances, for example the age and maturity of the child.

However, we can give a few examples of parental responsibilities.

Maintaining the child is a responsibility that persists even when the child no longer lives with the parent.

Another responsibility is to ensure that the child is educated, whether at school or at home.

And another responsibility is to ensure that the child receives appropriate medical treatment.

Additionally, parents generally bear responsibilities in the child’s overall upbringing, including decisions on religious matters, if applicable. This responsibility can evolve as the child matures, gaining more influence in decisions related to these matters.

Who has parental responsibility?

Of course, these responsibilities can only be exercised by a parent with parental responsibility, so who has parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility, in this context, pertains specifically to parents, although it can be held by non-parents as well.

All mothers acquire parental responsibility automatically, as do fathers if they are married to the mother. Mothers and married fathers can only lose parental responsibility if the child is adopted.

Unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility if they are named as the father on the child’s birth certificate, if the mother agrees to them having parental responsibility (and a parental responsibility agreement is signed), or by a court order granting them parental responsibility. An unmarried father can lose parental responsibility either by the child being adopted or by a court order removing parental responsibility.

In summary, ‘parental responsibilities’ encompass all legal duties held by a person with parental responsibility towards the child.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Child Law pages.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

When child abduction is discussed most people will envisage a parent taking their child to some foreign country, beyond the borders of the United Kingdom.

But what if the parent moves the child from one country in the UK to another country in the UK? Is that child abduction? After all, the countries within the UK do not all share the same legal system.

Can a parent abduct their own child in the UK? To answer the question we need to look at exactly what child abduction means

What is child abduction?

Child abduction is actually a criminal, rather than civil, matter (although as we will see in a moment there are also civil (i.e. family law) issues to take into consideration when moving a child to another country).

The criminal offence of child abduction is set out in the Child Abduction Act 1984, which states that a person commits the offence if they send or take a child under the age of 16 outside of the UK without the appropriate consent.

So, can a parent abduct their own child in the UK? There is the answer to the question: child abduction offense occurs only when the child is sent or taken out of the UK. It is not a criminal offence to take or send a child from England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland to another one of those countries.

For the sake of completeness, we should explain what is meant by “the appropriate consent”.

What the ‘appropriate consent’ is will depend upon the circumstances, but will normally mean that a father will need to obtain the consent of the mother and a mother will require the consent of the father, if he has parental responsibility for the child. However, if either parent has a child arrangements order stating that the child should live with them then they can take the child outside of the UK for up to 28 days without the other parent’s consent.

Does that mean I am free to move my child to another country in the UK?

Not necessarily.

Just because it is not a criminal offence to move a child from one country in the UK to another country in the UK it is still recommended that the parent first obtain the consent of the other parent, if the child is to be moved to a country with a different legal system, for example from England to Scotland (England and Wales share the same legal system but Scotland’s system is completely different). If you do not obtain consent and the matter subsequently goes before the court, then the court is likely to take a dim view of you moving the child without consent.

And if you do not obtain the other parent’s consent and they object to the child being moved they can apply to the court for an order requiring the child’s return, and that order can be registered in the courts of the country to which the child has been taken, so that those courts can enforce the return order.

Similarly, if there are any existing court orders in respect of a child under 16, they will be recognised and enforced in all courts inside the UK, provided the order has been registered in the court of that country.

In view of these things if you wish to move your child to another country in the UK and the other parent does not consent to the move then the best course of action is to apply to the court for permission to make the move.

If you are considering moving with your child to another country within the UK then you should first seek expert legal advice. For more information regarding moving a child within the UK, and how we can help, see this page.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Child Abduction page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

It’s a simple question, but with a not quite so simple answer.How long do you pay child maintenance for

For the sake of this post we will assume that the parents have separated and that the children live mainly with one of the parents. We will call that parent the ‘parent with care’, or ‘PWC’, and the other parent the ‘non-resident parent’, or ‘NRP’ (these are terms that are no longer officially used, but they make it easier to explain what follows).

When the parents separate they will obviously need to sort out a child maintenance arrangement. Hopefully, they will be able to do this between themselves by agreement, but if not then they will need to have it sorted out for them.

Until the advent of state-arranged child support maintenance under the Child Support Act 1991, that meant the PWC applying to the court for a child maintenance order.

As we will see in a moment, the court still has the power to make child maintenance orders. However, the Act took away that power in the vast majority of cases, giving it instead to what is now the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’).

Accordingly, in most cases where the parents cannot agree a child maintenance arrangement they (usually the PWC) will have to ask the CMS to sort it out for them.

Child Maintenance via the CMS

So how long does a CMS child maintenance arrangement last?

The answer to this is actually quite simple.

A CMS child maintenance arrangement lasts until the child attains the age of sixteen, or if they are in full-time education (up to and including A level or equivalent), until they attain the age of twenty. (It should be remembered that since 2013 the law has required that young people continue in education until the age of eighteen, unless they are in employment or training.)

But the end of a CMS child maintenance arrangement does not necessarily mean the end of the NRP’s liability to maintain the child.

What happens if, as is obviously often the case, the child goes into advanced (i.e. tertiary) education, or remains dependent beyond the age of twenty for some other reason? Can the NRP be required to pay maintenance for the child in such circumstances?

The answer is yes, but as the CMS no longer has jurisdiction the matter has to be dealt with by the court.

Child maintenance via the court

As mentioned above, the court still retains the power to make child maintenance orders, just as it did prior to the coming into force of the Child Support Act.

But the rules as to how long the maintenance lasts under an order are quite different to the rules as to how long a CMS maintenance arrangement lasts.

The starting-point is that a child maintenance order should not extend beyond the date of the child’s eighteenth birthday.

However, the court can order that the maintenance should continue beyond the child’s eighteenth birthday, if the child is still in full-time education, or if there are special circumstances, for example where the child remains dependent because they suffer from a disability.

The next question, then, is what is ‘full-time education’?

The answer to that depends on the court, but the court can include tertiary education up to degree level, including any gap year. Accordingly, a NRP could potentially be required to pay maintenance until the child is twenty-two years old.

In short, you will be liable to pay child maintenance until the child attains the age of sixteen, but could be liable all the while they are in full-time education, which can include tertiary education.

As we stated at the outset, hopefully separating parents will be able to sort out child maintenance arrangements by agreement, but if they do then they should also agree how long the maintenance should last, having regard to the above.

If you need help sorting out child maintenance arrangements, including how much should be paid, then you should seek expert legal advice.

How can we help?

For further information, please see the Child Arrangements page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information

Relationship breakdown will obviously usually mean that the parties will no longer have anything to do with one another (save, perhaps, for any ongoing maintenance liability).

But where the parties have children, and especially where the children are dependent, they will still have to deal with each other, to sort out arrangements for the children.

And of course the parties may enter into new relationships, which can add an extra dimension to those arrangements.Can my ex demand to meet my new partner

Co-parenting with new partners

If a parent enters into a relationship with a new partner then it is obviously likely that the children will come into contact with the new partner, especially if the parent and their new partner live together.

Seeing their parent with someone else may obviously be upsetting for some children (although many take it in their stride). Introducing children to the new partner should therefore be approached with care, perhaps on a gradual basis, rather than treating it as a ‘fait accompli’.

And consideration should also be given to the other parent, who may understandably have concerns about the children meeting and spending time with the new partner.

If possible the parent with the new partner should discuss those concerns with the other parent, and reassure them that the children will come to no harm.

Of course, it isn’t always possible for separated parents to discuss and agree matters in an amicable fashion. In such a situation there are two common scenarios that may occur: the other parent may want to stop their ex introducing the children to their new partner, and they may even demand to meet the new partner.

Can I legally stop my ex introducing the children to their new partner?

As mentioned above, the other parent may have genuine concerns about their children meeting and spending time with their ex’s new partner. Those concerns may be just general worry about the effect upon the children, or may be specific concerns, based upon information they have about the new partner, or what the children have told them.

If the parent is sufficiently worried they could apply to the court for an order restricting the children’s contact with the new partner, but this should really be seen as a last resort.

They should first try to discuss their concerns with the other parent, and could also consider resolving the matter via mediation.

If they do go to court they should understand that they will have to prove to the court that the children have suffered, or are likely to suffer, ongoing harm by having contact with the new partner. Merely being upset when they first meet the new partner is unlikely to be sufficient, as the court generally takes the view that if a new partner is a part of the parent’s life, then they should be a part of the children’s lives also.

Can my ex demand to meet my new partner?

Of course, simply not knowing the new partner can naturally cause the other parent to worry about their children’s welfare. They may therefore want to be reassured by meeting the new partner.

This can be a good idea, provided of course that all parties are happy to meet, but what if they are not? Can the other parent force a meeting?

The simple answer is that they can’t, and even the court will not force a meeting to take place.

However, again if the other parent’s concerns are sufficiently serious for the matter to go to court then the court will want to check that the new partner poses no threat of harm to the children. This could be done, for example, by the court appointing a welfare officer to investigate, and the welfare officer meeting the new partner.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help you, please see the Child Arrangements page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information

Ask any parent what is the most important thing in their life and they will instantly reply: their children.father talking to child

And for most parents their children are a constant part of their life, at least until the children grow up.

But sometimes the law will intervene, threatening to reduce the time a parent spends with their children, or even to remove the children entirely.

At such times it is essential that the parent engage the services of an expert children law solicitor.

What is a children law solicitor?

Before looking at when a parent needs a children law solicitor, and why they are so important, we first need to consider exactly what a children law solicitor is, because not all solicitors are children law solicitors.

Children law is a specialisation, requiring quite different skills from most other areas of law. In fact, the skills required are quite different even to other areas of family law, such as sorting out finances on divorce, although many children law solicitors are experts in both fields.

Children law solicitors acquire those skills through continual training (keeping them up to date with the latest law and practices) and, of course, experience.

But how do you know that you are instructing an expert children lawyer?

One way is accreditation by a professional body.

For example, the Law Society runs a Children Law Accreditation scheme. Solicitors who have Children Law Accreditation are specialists in dealing with legal issues related to children, such as adoption, child protection, and arrangements for children following family breakdown.

Children Law Accreditation is open to both solicitors and legal executives. To obtain accreditation the applicant must have enough experience to show that they have:

  • personally conducted cases and represented parties in children proceedings;
  • carried out advocacy for clients;
  • a thorough awareness of ethical issues that can arise in children cases;
  • an up-to-date knowledge of guidance, legislation, case law and practice developments; and
  • the ability to work directly with children, explore their competence and understand their wishes and feelings.

The Law Society also expects them to meet the standards of practice and conduct outlined in a Code of Practice for Children Law.

Children Law Accreditation is a recognised quality standard for practitioners representing children in children law proceedings.

When do you need a children law solicitor?

There are essentially two situations when a parent will need a children law solicitor: private law cases and public law cases.

Private law cases are where arrangements for children need to be sorted out between the parents following family breakdown. Those arrangements include with whom the children will live, and what time they will spend with the other parent.

A children law solicitor will obviously advise the parent on the law, and if necessary represent them at court.

However, a children law solicitor can do much more. They can help the parents resolve the matter by agreement if possible, thereby avoiding potentially damaging court proceedings.

They can also, for example, prevent a parent from making serious mistakes, such as arguing irrelevant matters (often an issue that a parent considers of utmost importance is not actually important to the outcome), and seeking equal time at all costs, thereby preventing early resolution of the matter.

Public law cases, on the other hand, are cases where social services are involved, because of concerns over the level of care provided for the children by the parents. If those concerns are sufficiently serious, the local authority can apply to the family court for a care order, potentially removing the children from the parents’ care.

Obviously, in such cases it is absolutely essential that the parents instruct a children law solicitor, at the earliest opportunity, so that they have the best chance to avoid their children being taken into care.

As will be seen from the above, the situations when a parent will need the help of a children law solicitor can be extremely serious. The importance of an expert children law solicitor to the parent cannot therefore be overstated.

How can we help?

For further information, please see the Children and Social Services page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information

On the 4th of September the BBC aired a shocking documentary telling the story of mothers fleeing the UK with their children, claiming that the Family Courts were forcing their children into contact with their abusive fathers.Father carrying crying child

The documentary coincided with research published by the University of Manchester highlighting serious health problems suffered by mothers who accuse their partners of domestic abuse. The mothers claimed that their health problems were caused by biased family court proceedings.

The study, involving 45 mothers and their 77 children, found that dozens of the children had been forced into contact with abusive fathers, most of whom had spuriously claimed that the mothers had sought to alienate the children against them.

The BBC investigation also found that five mothers had died after being accused of parental alienation by abusive fathers, some taking their own lives, and one having a heart attack.

But is the Family Court really biased against mothers, in the way that it orders contact after preferring fathers’ claims of parental alienation over mothers’ claims of domestic abuse?

Are Family Courts biased against mothers?

The first thing to say is that the Family Court does of course get things wrong from time to time. No system is perfect, and judges are fallible human beings who can make wrong judgement calls.

But the system is not complacent. It is always trying to improve. It has, for example, quite recently taken steps to improve how it deals with cases involving domestic abuse allegations, and new proposed guidance for courts is in the pipeline on how to respond to allegations of alienating behaviour (more of which in a moment).

And the research has to be taken in context. Whilst any mistake by the Family Court can obviously have extremely serious, and sometimes tragic, consequences, it must be remembered that every year the Family Courts in England and Wales deal with over 50,000 private law children cases between parents, involving some 80,000 children.

Family Court judges often have a very difficult task, but in the vast majority of those cases they do not make decisions that are obviously wrong, even if one of the parties may believe that to be so.

And the law that those judges have to apply contains no bias – it is written in terms that apply equally to both parents.

So why might the courts be accused of bias?

In a press release published by the University of Manchester lead researcher Dr Elizabeth Dalgarno says that the study’s findings can be explained by lack of training for judges and court professionals around coercive control and domestic abuse, and a culture of misogyny and woman and victim-blaming which is prevalent in society.

These points may have some validity, but the first is being address by improved training for judges, and the second, if true, is obviously a much wider problem that cannot be blamed upon the Family Courts.

The Family Courts’ approach to parental alienation

The BBC says that researchers studying the Family Court say they are concerned about the increasing number of claims of parental alienation, which Dr Dalgarno describes as “a pseudoscientific belief system designed to control women and deny abuse”.

But the family justice system is already making it clear that parental alienation is not a syndrome capable of being diagnosed, but rather a process of manipulation of children perpetrated by one parent against the other, through what are termed as “alienating behaviours”. It is fundamentally a question of fact.

As the President of the Family Division has said: “the identification of ‘alienating behaviour’ should be the court’s focus, rather than any quest to determine whether the label ‘parental alienation’ can be applied.”

And as mentioned above, the Family Justice Council (‘FJC’), which monitors the family justice system, has drafted guidance to assist the Family Court on responding to allegations of alienating behaviour. The guidance, which is presently out for consultation, focuses on dealing with evidence and finding facts.

Of course, no improvements can guarantee that mistakes are no longer made, but the FJC expresses the hope that the guidance “will contribute to increased understanding, good practice, and ultimately good welfare outcomes for children.”

How can we help?

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information

Grandparents can obviously play a huge and iGrandparenting after divorcemportant role in a child’s life, and this is especially so when the child’s parents separate.

But parental separation can also interrupt the grandparents’ relationship with the child, particularly if the child then lives with the ‘other’ parent, who is not the grandparent’s own child.

In this post we will examine the role of grandparents following parental separation, and what they can do if the separation does interrupt their relationship with the child.

Grandparents who see their grandchildren

Family breakdown can obviously be extremely traumatic for children, who will be faced with a new and often bewildering situation. Their life has been turned upside down, and they face an uncertain future.

Grandparents can play an important role in reducing that trauma, reassuring the children, and helping them cope with what has happened.

The grandparents’ home can remain a fixed point of ‘normality’, where the children can go and, for a time at least, experience life as it always was.

The children may also need someone who they can trust to talk to about what has happened, and what it means for the future. A grandparent can be that person (not taking sides, of course).

It is important therefore that the grandparents continue to make themselves available for the grandchildren, irrespective of their views about the separation of their son or daughter.

Grandparents who don’t see their grandchildren

If the parental separation has caused a breakdown in contact between the grandparents and their grandchildren then obviously steps should be taken to re-establish the contact as quickly as possible.

If the children are having contact with the grandparents’ son or daughter then it may be possible to see the grandchildren during the contact times (with the agreement of the son or daughter, of course).

But if that is not possible, for example because the son or daughter is not themselves seeing the children, then the grandparents will have to take action to re-establish their contact.

Hopefully, this will be possible by agreement with the parent with whom the children are living, either directly or with the help of mediation.

But if agreement cannot be reached then the grandparents will have to apply to the Family Court for a child arrangements (contact) order.

Grandparents can apply for contact in the same way as parents, with one exception: they will first need to obtain the permission of the court to make the application.

In deciding whether to grant permission the court will consider the connection between the grandparents and the children, and whether the application is likely to cause harmful disruption to the children. In most cases, however, permission will be granted, as little more than a formality.

And in deciding whether to make a contact order in favour of the grandparents, and if so what kind of contact should take place, the court will be guided by what it considers best for the welfare of the children, taking into account such matters as the ascertainable wishes of the children (considered in the light of their age and understanding), the needs of the children, the likely effect of any change upon the children, any harm they are at risk of suffering, and the capability of the grandparents of meeting their needs.

In general, the court will usually consider that regular contact with their grandparents is likely to be beneficial to the children’s welfare, and a contact order will therefore usually be made.

As to the amount and type of contact (daytime only, overnight, telephone, etc.), this will vary depending upon the particular circumstances, although obviously grandparents would not usually expect to have as much contact as a parent would have.

How can we help?

For further information, please see the Grandparents Rights page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information