What clients might be suitable for the One Solicitor: One Couple process (also known as Solicitor Neutral or Resolution Together)? I’m delighted to be joined in this blog by Dr Angharad Rudkin, a child psychologist, author and creator of the What...
Child arrangements and parenting plans
Family separation means having to think of everything all at once. Child arrangements must always come first if you have them. If not, you might have pets and this chapter can be used in much the same way for them too.
Sorting out arrangements for the children
Your family is unique. Each child is unique. Every parent is unique. There is no ‘one size fits all’ way of caring for the children when your relationship is over and you are living separately or contemplating living separately.
It is understandable to want to spend as much time as possible with your children. That’s a given for most parents. You are used to being with them whenever they aren’t at work or doing other solo activities.
What children need is to spend quality time with each of you. The quantity will revolve around your own commitments, the other parent’s commitments and just as importantly the needs of the children.
Some of the time you spend with your child(ren) will be the fun stuff - going to theme parks, holidays and meals out. Going to the cinema and going on long walks. Going to school plays, school assemblies, watching their sporting activities and interests. Going to the park, cooking with them and doing arts and crafts. Reading them stories. Listening to them read to you.
Most of the time it will be the minutiae of caring for them. They need to be taken school or nursery; they need to go to the doctor, the dentist, to have their hair cut. To attend school meetings with you. Taking them to sleepovers, parties, or to meet their friends. You must make sure they are clean and that their clothes and uniforms are clean and ironed. Getting their lunch boxes ready. Making sure they do their homework and coursework. You will know the work involved in caring for children.
What’s a parenting plan?
All of my clients receive a workbook called Our Family in Two Homes which has a whole section in it devoted to parenting plans. A parenting plan is a mutually agreed document that sets out how you will care for the children. Many parents easily work out a plan that works for everyone. Others have to manage shift work, multiple activities with children, travel plans, holiday deadlines; lots to juggle and lots of complications.
Don’t complete a parenting plan from your own perspective only; tempting though it is to put your ideas forward. It will likely upset the other parent who may see it as you trying to control things or to impose your will on them. Make arrangements to complete it together - using me as a mediator or solicitor neutral in the One Solicitor: One Couple process.
Parents come up with really unique plans that take everything into account and are often very detailed.
The reason why parenting plans are important is because they are a predictable plan for how you will be arranging the children’s care. Most of us feel safe when there is a routine. Children especially thrive when they know what’s going on. This is especially true for neurodivergent children (and neurodivergent parents).
Things to think about
- How do extracurricular activities fit with your plan?
- Will you need to help each other with driving/transport?
- Do you have similar attitudes about how many and what type of activities?
- What about holidays and special events?
- Will you re-arrange the parenting plan from time to time to ensure the children have the opportunity to enjoy special events and holidays with both parents and extended families?
- Which holidays are to be shared?
- How will you work out changes - and how much notice do you need?
- If one parent requests a change, do you want to know the reason?
- How will you balance routine with flexibility?
- Think about your parenting styles (and how they might be different) to try and anticipate challenges that will inevitably come up.
- How will you try and work things out when you cannot agree?
A Parenting Plan is not usually the end of the story. Your child(ren) lives change. Your lives change. It’s an organic and flexible document that is up for re-negotiation and change as life circumstances changes.
The voice of the child
It’s great to hear the views of the children but only if they volunteer them. Don’t ask your children where they want to live or how much time they want to spend with the other parent.
These are decisions for you as parents to make.
Certainly, tell them that you’d like to hear their views BUT the ultimate decision will be yours and yours alone.
If you want to gauge how the children are then seek the help of a Child Inclusive Mediator.
Is a parenting plan legally binding?
At the time of writing Parenting Plans are not legally binding. However, this may very well change. In the meantime, Parenting Plans are given great weight by a Judge or Arbitrator. This is because they are very persuasive. When parents have taken the time to really consider what their children need and create a parenting plan, the court will feel that they ought not to interfere UNLESS absolutely necessary with those decisions already made. The expectation is that parents will continue to amend the parenting plans as necessary.
It’s very hard to imagine not spending all your time with your children after a breakup. I recommend that you work with a family consultant or a therapist to sort out the unhelpful emotions that get in the way of sorting things out. It’s normal to feel these things but there are ways to help yourself get through it. See Working with Others.
Parenting after parting courses
Most separating couples want to put the children first but just need some help to do so. Therefore, I asked Penny Coombes of Iris (Brighton or anywhere) and Stephanie Davies-Arai (Lewes based) - both leading child experts- to develop and deliver a course of help.
Group courses (there are three) can be attended either as a couple or as individuals. The first session focuses on managing your separation, dealing with such issues as how and when to tell the children. The second session focuses on how to help your children, and you, in managing feelings and issues that arise from contact and co-parenting issues. The third session looks at the longer terms, and how to cope with issues such as a new partner, new baby, a move away and step families with other siblings. In the alternative, you can have a course for you as an ex-couple and can really focus on the issues relating to you and your family.
Stephanie has also written a brilliant book called 'Communicating with Kids' which I commend to all parents once the child is able to say, 'no'.
What About Aruna?
I am very pleased and proud to have co-sponsored these 4 short videos by psychologist Dr Rudkin about child development and how parents can help their children deal with a family breakup. These really are a fantastic resource.
How will you choose to sort things out?
Now it’s time to consider how the ways of sorting things out might suit you better. I will have in-depth discussions with you to see which of these processes OR a mix of these processes would suit you best. It might be worth having a look at them but don't worry I will give you my professional opinion on the best way forward.
One Solicitor: One Couple - this is where I help you both by giving you joint best interests’ advice. See the page about the solicitor neutral role for more details.
Mediation - the mediator helps you bring together all the information you need to make decisions about your financial settlement and a parenting plan.
Hybrid Mediation - where solicitors are already involved or you are in mediation already. The solicitors are with you in mediation and this can be helpful as it cuts down on time and complications arising from lack of contemporaneous advice.
Child Inclusive Mediation - a specially trained mediator talks and listens to your child(ren). Usually, but not always, the Child Inclusive Mediator will be separate to your mediator or hybrid mediator. They report back to you what the child (if the child consents) thinks.
Collaborative practice - where I and your ex’s especially trained lawyer work together to help you both sort things out; we will never work against each other or try to ‘win’; we will not be tactical. We use our legal advice openly (known as waiving legal privilege). That way you know what each other’s cases are and can work out a way forward. We lawyers are contractually obliged not to go to court with you; this is a positive as it binds everyone to making it work.
Round table meetings - your lawyer and your ex’s lawyers meet ‘around the table’ or online together. We will want to sign a principled meeting agreement to make sure you can get the best out of it (rather than posturing and positioning).
Arbitration - you and your ex simply can’t make a decision on one or all issues. Then you need a decision maker. Sadly, most people at the moment would issue an application at court to ask a Judge to adjudicate. The court is not a good option. Instead use Arbitration to ask the Arbitrator to make the decision for you.
Arb-Med (Arbitration-Mediation) - this is a combination of Arbitration and Mediation. The order is important. First, you’d instruct an Arbitrator (see Arbitration) who would direct that you attend mediation. Most people sort everything out in mediation but if some things (or sometimes all things) aren’t resolved you can revert to an Arbitrator to make a decision for you.
Early Neutral Evaluation - sometimes, it’s very helpful to ask (or instruct) a neutral person to tell you (in person/Zoom or in writing) what might happen if the court was asked to make a decision on your situation (case). It can be creatively used to give an overview of what the law is in a particular area. The neutral person is usually a senior barrister, QC, solicitor or ex Judge. My role would be to prepare all the information to get the best results from the Early Neutral Evaluator.