The Children Law Act 1989 covers a number of Orders and ways in which the needs of children can be considered and decided upon by the Court. These are mostly covered at section 8 of the Act and consider:
- Who a child should live with and/or spend time with (Child Arrangements Order);
- Who can act in relation to a child and how (Prohibited Steps Order); and
- Whether a direct answer can be given for a specific question (Specific Issue Order).
A Child Arrangements Order can be pursued by anybody but a Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order can only be pursued by an individual who holds Parental Responsibility (either through birth or a later granted Order). These Orders can all be pursued via our firm so if you or anyone you know needs our help, please call us on 01522 561020.
All proceedings brought before the Court, which involve children, should be child focused and child centred. Often there has been incidents (or alleged incidents) of domestic abuse and on most occasions the child(ren) will have been emotionally affected by the breakdown in the parents’ relationship. 75% of mental health concerns manifest before an individual turns 24 and the period of time a child spends embroiled in legal proceedings is likely to impact them. The question therefore remains, how can parental breakups be countered to ensure they don’t cause adverse childhood experiences or long term issues for the child(ren) of the family?
What can we all do to ensure the actions of parents, legal advisors and court staff are accurate, fair and reasonable towards the child(ren) involved in proceedings? It has been widely reported that child(ren) within proceedings who have increased exposure to poorly resolved and/or frequent conflict, can lead to developmental issues and impaired life chances. There are already many factors affecting and impacting upon a child’s mental health – social and academic pressures particularly – so the impact of proceedings should be carefully managed.
If there is any concern about parental alienation, this can be discussed and raised at Court and the subject can be carefully managed. Parental alienation can be used as a tool by one parent to suggest within proceedings that the child does not wish to maintain a relationship with the other parent. Often this can look like genuine concern but fundamentally looks like a parent who “acts or speaks in a way, without legitimate justification, that causes the child to not want to maintain a relationship with the other parent.” Cafcass, who are an independent body often assigned to keep a child’s interests at the forefront, will be able to put some provisions in place to counter this issue. Fundamentally though, parental alienation ideally needs to be nipped in the bud at the earliest opportunity before it is given the room and space to grow and manifest.
It is often very difficult, in practice, to minimise conflict between parents. Conflicts occur daily and are clearly more likely to occur when a relationship has already broken down. Challenging parents and their views/thoughts can be a powerful tool in proceedings. The most important question is: is this the best option for the child? It may be hard for a parent to consider contact arrangements, consider the upheaval these contact arrangements will have, consider safety and welfare issues and not be coerced in to making a decision that won’t work for the child. This is where a legal advisor can step in and assist.
Perhaps the simplest way to ensure a child’s thoughts, feelings and wishes are being heard, is to instruct a mediator. They can discuss any live concerns the child(ren) has and ensure an appropriate course of action is implemented, relaying anything of relevance back to the parents and/or the Court.
As a Solicitor, it is perfectly reasonable to take a more active role in ensuring a child remains the focus where there is parental conflict. We can attempt to minimise the impact that the separation of parties has on a child. Continuous returning of the focus to the child(ren) is paramount and this can occur via small but significant changes/conversations. If you, or someone you know, needs help with this, please don’t hesitate to contact our team.
For more help and guidance please contact the Children Law team on 01522 561020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org