Step 1) Agree Childcare Arrangements
If it is possible to discuss matters with your partner then you should talk to them directly to try to agree on childcare arrangements, discuss things like which parent the child will live with and what contact the other parent will have with the children.
Residence means who the children will primarily live, or whether the spend equal time with each parent which is called shared residence. If the children do live primarily with one parent, this does not mean that the parent they live with has any rights or responsibilities over and above the other parent.
This is the time that the children spend with the ‘non-residential’ parent, including things like what days, times of pick up and drop off, and who will be picking them up and dropping them off to the residential parent. There is no rules as how much contact a non-residential parent should have, but usually it would be at least once a week and possibly overnight stays and additional contact during holiday periods. Contact can include things such as telephone, letters, email, internet messaging and text messaging.
Shared residence means that the children will live with both parents and have two equal homes. It does not always mean a equal split of the child’s time.
The 'no order principle'
If you manage to agree on arrangements for residence and contact with your partner then no court order or other documentary proof of the agreement is usually not required. There is a general principle that says no court order will be made relating to childcare arrangements unless an order IS required – this means that the law will try to leave childcare arguments to the parents wherever possible. This is to allow flexibility, so it is easier for parents to change the arrangements (permanently or temporary) without having to go back to the courts.
If you are unable to sort out arrangements with your spouse directly, then you may want to consider mediation. Mediation is the process where the parents will have one or more meetings with a trained and qualified mediator, who will help the parents try to agree on arrangements for childcare. Mediation is on a voluntary basis so mediation can only go ahead if both parents agree. While mediation is not free, the cost will be substantially less than court fees (legal aid may still be available).
Frequently Asked Questions
I have not yet agreed arrangements for the children with my spouse. Can I still issue the divorce proceedings?
Yes, you can, the divorce petition now only requires the details of the children and not the arrangements for their care.
If I agree to the children living primarily with my spouse, will I still share parental responsibility for them?
Yes. Where the parents were married, both will continue to have parental responsibility for them, irrespective of the childcare arrangements.
Can we have a written agreement without going to Court?
Yes you can; this would be a Parenting Agreement, this is not a legal contract and it isn't intended to be enforced by a court. In fact, it is intended to help separated parents stay out of court by encouraging them to make practical and workable arrangements for their children by themselves. it will give both parents a valuable opportunity to sit down and discuss how you both would like your children to be raised post-separation and give you both the chance to discuss your children and their upbringing, and covers all aspects to the children’s lives. A Parenting Agreement demonstrates a willingness to co-operate and agree between the parents.
Do we take into account the wishes of the children?
Yes, if appropriate. See Step 3 'Investigation'.