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If you haven’t already, take a look at our factsheet Making arrangements for your children. It provides some basic steps to help you have more effective conversations about your children.
If you have been through a difficult break-up or an emotionally challenging or stressful time, you might find yourself feeling angry or fearful about the future. You may be tired and not be sleeping well, feel depressed, or stressed.
Taking steps to look after yourself and using the help that’s available will help you make better decisions. It will also make it easier for you to stay available to your children and their emotional needs, and ensure they are supported. The Gingerbread factsheet Looking after your emotional health will give you advice on how to get in better shape to make those important decisions.
If you’re separating or have recently separated you will need to consider your finances, your home, any property you own or debts you have. You should find out your legal rights before you negotiate.
To find family law solicitors who take a non-confrontational approach contact Resolution, who can put you in touch with a local solicitor. Civil Legal Advice can also refer you to a local solicitor and assess your entitlement to legal aid (see page five). For more information on what legal advice is available see the Gingerbread factsheet Getting Legal Help.
Organisation: Law Society
Details: Use the website to find a solicitor in your area.
Details: Association of solicitors specialising in family law, who adopt a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family problems. It can provide a list of local members. The website contains free information on issues such as splitting up, parenting apart and child maintenance.
Phone: 0168 982 0272
You and your child’s other parent will discuss the issues you need to work out, and the mediator will lead the discussion and help you focus. The mediator will help you and your child’s other parent have your say, and it is the two of you who make the decisions. You may be worried that your child’s other parent will dominate or take over, but the mediator will work to make sure you are both heard.
Mediation relies on two people wanting to resolve their dispute, even though they have very different viewpoints at the start of the process.
Mediation is not suitable in certain situations. If you have been in a violent or abusive relationship with your child’s other parent, mediation may not be appropriate for you.
If you are able to reach an agreement with your child’s other parent, the mediator will draw up a written document for you. You might want to get legal advice on whether it is fair to you, especially if it’s about finances.
The agreement provided by the mediator is not legally binding, but if you would like it to be, a court can make an agreement about finances into a ‘consent order’. This means you have a court order, but you have decided it rather than a judge. The court will need to check the arrangement is fair before they grant the order. The current fee for a consent order is £50, but if you’re on a low income it may be reduced – you can ask at the court for more information on costs before you pay.
Organisation: Family Mediation Council
Details: Provides an online database of family mediators.
Organisation: National Family Mediation
Details: Aims to help individuals reach joint decisions on issues associated with their separation such as children, finance or property. Can answer general enquiries relating to mediation and put callers in touch with local not-for-profit mediation services.
Phone: 0300 4000 636
Arbitration is an alternative to going to court. It is a formal, private and binding process for resolving family disputes, and can only be used for financial matters; it can’t be used to resolve disputes about arrangements for children. If you reach an agreement through arbitration there won’t be any public court records, and you can choose your arbitrator.
Applying to the court should be the last resort, when all other attempts to agree have failed or aren’t suitable. Court action can be lengthy and expensive, and parents may not get the outcome they want.
Before you can apply for a court order, most people will have to consider mediation, and show a form at the court to prove that you have been to a meeting to discuss the suitability of mediation. This is called a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. There are exemptions to attending a meeting, for example if you have suffered domestic violence.
For more information contact National Family Mediation.
The court will encourage you to reach an agreement, but if you can’t it may be necessary for the court to issue an order.
The following are the most common orders a court can issue in relation to disputes over children:
When deciding whether to make an order, the court must consider whether it would be better for the welfare of the child to make an order than not make an order. The court will not make an order unless it’s necessary. The welfare of the child must be the court’s top priority when making decisions. This is known as ‘the welfare principle’.
There are certain things that a court considers when deciding what’s in a child’s best interests. This is known as the ‘welfare checklist’. The court considers all the circumstances of the case and not just the checklist, but it’s the starting point.
The checklist is:
- The wishes and feelings of the child (in light of their age and understanding)
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect on the child of any changes in circumstances
- The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
- Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- How capable each of the parents (or other relevant person) is of meeting the child’s needs
- The range of powers available to the court.
If you’re considering applying for a court order, or your child’s other parent has applied for a court order, you should think about getting legal advice. If you can’t get help with the costs through legal aid, seeing a solicitor can be expensive.
If it’s not possible for you to see a solicitor, consider getting some help from an organisation that can give you some advice for free, such as Rights of Women or Citizens Advice (see their details in the 'Further help and information' section).
For more information see the Gingerbread factsheet Getting Legal Help.
Organisation: Citizens Advice
Details: Information and advice on a wide range of issues including benefits, employment, debt, housing and consumer rights.
Phone: England: 03444 111 444; Wales: 03444 77 20 20
Organisation: Coram Children’s Legal Centre
Details: Coram Children's Legal Centre provides advice in law and policy affecting children and young people.
Organisation: Rights of Women
Details: Free, confidential legal advice by telephone for women on a wide variety of issues. Specialist areas include family law, divorce/relationship breakdown, children/contact issues and domestic violence.
Phone: 020 7251 6577
Details: The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) provides confidential information and advice for anyone considering counselling. They can assist you to find a registered counsellor in your local area and produce information
to help you to find the right counsellor for you.
Phone: 01455 883 300
Organisation: Child Law Advice Service
Details: Child Law Advice is operated by Coram Children's Legal Centre. Specialist advice and information on child, family and education law. Applicable only in England.
Phone: 0300 330 5480 (family law); 0300 330 5485 (education law)
Organisation: Civil Legal Advice
Details: Can assess your eligibility for legal aid and signpost to local sources of help.
Phone: 0345 345 4345
Organisation: Family Mediator’s Association
Details: Provides information on family mediation, and directs to local mediation services.
Phone: 01355 244594
Organisation: Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline
Details: Free information on a range of issues including maintenance, benefits, tax credits, debt, employment, education, legal rights and holidays. Open Mondays 10am to 6pm, Tuesday/Thursday/Friday 10am to 4pm and Wednesdays 10am-1pm and 5pm to 7pm
Phone: Freephone 0808 802 0925
Organisation: Institute of Family Law Arbitrators
Details: For information on family law arbitration.
Phone: 01689 820272
Organisation: Men’s Advice Line
Details: Confidential helpline for men who have experienced or who are experiencing domestic abuse. Provides emotional support and practical advice including how to make yourself safer, where to get legal advice, how domestic abuse affects children and information for gay and bisexual men.
Phone: 0808 801 0327
Organisation: National Domestic Violence Helpline
Details: The freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline is run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge. It is a national service for women experiencing domestic violence or their friends and families. A translation service is available.
Phone: 0808 2000 247
Organisation: One Parent Families Scotland Lone Parent Helpline
Details: Run by our partner organisation, the Lone Parent Helpline provides confidential advice and information for single parents in Scotland.
Phone: 0808 801 0323
Details: Offers a range of services and provides support at all stages of relationships. Relate also provides a counselling service especially for children and young people.
Phone: 0300 100 1234
Organisation: The Parent Connection
Details: The website supports parents through separation and parenting difficulties. There are a range of resources including articles, videos and support to develop a new parenting relationship after separation, along with practical ideas to overcome problems.
For detailed step-by-step advice on everything from benefits and tax credits to childcare and your wellbeing, sign up for the email reminders in our guide to separation.
Help when you cant agree
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