Great Expectations? (What the Family Court Expects from Parents

Great Expectations? (What the Family Court Expects from Parents)

Glasgow Sheriff Court previously issued guidelines for parents who are involved in Court proceedings in relation to their child or children.  The guidelines apply to all the children and all parents and carers, without exception.  We discuss the content of the guidelines with clients and we forward this information to parents and carers whose children are the subject of Court proceedings. The guidelines serve as a useful reminder to clients to try and encourage resolution of child related matters with the other parent, rather than asking the Court to regulate things.  Obviously, this is not possible in all cases but these guidelines are a reminder of how, where possible, parents should co-operate in relation to arrangements for their children. Please feel free to print and share.

These guidelines apply to all children and all parents & carers. Please do not think that your case is an exception

.

The Court wants you to think about these things:

● As parents, you share responsibility for your child.  You have a duty to talk to each other and make very effort to agree about how you will bring your child up.

● Even when you separate, this duty continues.

● Try to agree the arrangements for your child.  If talking to each other is difficult, ask for help. Trained mediators can help you to talk to each other and find solutions even when things are hard. Local services include: Relationship Scotland – Family Mediation West (

www.fmwest.org.uk) and CALM Scotland (www.calmscotland.co.uk)  (You can also get assistance from The Spark (http://www.thespark.org.uk)

  • If you cannot agree, you can ask the Court to decide for you. The law says that the Court must always put the welfare of the child first. What you want may not be the best thing for the child. The Court has to put the child first however hard this is for the adults.

 

● Experience suggests that agreements between you as parents work better than Court imposed orders.

The Court therefore expects you to do what is best for your child:

● Encourage your child to have a good relationship with both of you.

● Try to have a good enough relationship with each other as parents even though you are no longer together as a couple.

● Arrange for your child to spend time with each of you.

Remember that the Court expects you to do what is best for your child even when you find that difficult:

● It is the law that a child has a right to regular personal contact with parents unless there is a very good reason to the contrary. Denial of contact is very unusual and in most cases contact will be frequent and substantial.

  • A Court may deny contact if it is satisfied that your or your child’s safety is at risk.

 

  • Sometimes a parent stops contact because he or she feels that he or she is not getting enough money from the other parent to look after the child.  This is not a reason to stop contact.

 

Your Child needs to:

  • Understand what is happening to their family. It is your job to explain.

 

  • Have a loving open relationship with both parents. It is your job to encourage this. You may be separated from each other but your child needs to know that he or she is not being separated from either of you.

 

  • Show love, affection and respect for both parents.

 

Your child should not be made to:

● Blame himself or herself for the breakup.

● Hear you criticize the other parent or anyone else involved.

● Turn against the other parent because they think that is what you want.

You can help your child:

● Think about how he or she feels about the breakup.

● Listen to what your child has to say about how he or she is feeling, and about what he or she thinks of any arrangements that have to be made.

● Try to agree arrangements for your child with other people.

● Talk to the other parent openly, honestly and respectfully

  • Explain your point of view to the other parent so that you do not misunderstand one another.

 

● Draw up a plan as to how you will share responsibility for your child.

● When you have different ideas from other parent, do not talk about it when your child is with you. Do not publicise your disagreement or make derogatory comments on any social media sites where the child might access them or hear about them from others

If you want to change agreed arrangements such as where the child lives or goes to school:

● Make sure the other parent agrees. If you cannot agree, go to mediation; if you still cannot agree, apply to the Court

If  there is a Court Order in place, you must do what the Court Order says even if you

don’t agree with that. If you want to do something different, you have to apply to the

Court to have the Court Order varied.

So, some helpful home truths from Glasgow Sheriff Court. If you need any help or guidance, or further explanation as to the effect these guidelines may have on you then please do not hesitate to contact Caroline Henderson on 0141 611 7535 or visit us at www.mtmfamilylaw.co.uk.  Please feel free to share this information.

A Guide for Separated Parents at Christmas

With 10 sleeps until Santa comes (as I was so excitedly told by my boss when I arrived in the office this morning!) our thoughts turn to friends, family, fizz, gifts, fizz, selection boxes, presents and of course, fizz! Christmas is usually a time for family, especially children. But, for separated families, it can be a time of increased pressure and unhappiness. You may find it incredibly hard to be away from your children for even a few hours on Christmas day but here are some helpful hints and pointers (from the centre for separated families) which may help make the day, and the rest of the holidays, a little easier for everyone. Maybe not for all, but fingers crossed.

If your children will spend time with both of you
Try to agree, as early as possible, how your children will spend time with each of you. It isn’t important that they spend exactly the same amount of time with you both. What’s important is that the time is as relaxed and enjoyable as possible. Think about how it may be possible for your children to spend some quality time with both of you that allows everyone to get something of what they would like.

Make any hand-over as easy as possible
If your children will be spending time in two places, make sure that the transition is as simple as possible. The last thing your children want is to see their mum and dad arguing. Agree when, where and how your children will move between you. Stick to your agreement and contact each other if there needs to be any changes. If seeing each other is too difficult, think about people who may be able to help at hand-over such as grandparents or friends.

When time with both of you isn’t possible
If it is not possible for your children to spend time with both of you on the day, try to think about ways that you can share the celebration with your children at another time and make that as special as possible. A phone call on, or a special letter for the day can help children feel connected and reduce any anxiety. If your children’s other parent doesn’t seem interested, might it be possible to encourage them just to send a card?

Don’t compete over presents
Some separated parents find it possible to share present buying and giving. However, for many, this isn’t realistic. If you are buying presents separately, try to agree who will buy what. It can be very difficult if one parent has more money than the other. So try not to compete over who will buy the biggest or the best present – it just isn’t in your children’s best interests.

Think about extended family
Try to make time for grandparents, aunts and uncles if your children are used to seeing them at Christmas. If it is too difficult to spend time with them, then a phone call will help everyone stay in touch.

Think about new partners and other children
If there is a new partner in your life, think about how that will affect your arrangements. How will your children feel about that? How will your new partner feel about it? How will you children’s other parent feel about it? What about step-siblings and half-siblings? Try to find a way forward that means that as little friction as possible. But be honest about what you want, too.

Don’t require your children to make the decisions
It is important that children, especially younger ones, are not required to make decisions on your behalf. Talk to all the adults involved, talk to your children if they are old enough, decide what is best and then tell your children what has been decided.

When you are unable to see or contact your children
Being prevented from seeing or contacting your children, for whatever reason, is usually a very painful experience. Times of celebration can be especially difficult. Many parents in this position find their own way of marking the occasion. It can be helpful to try and make contact with other parents in a similar position as a way of offering and receiving support. If you are unable to buy your child a present or show them that you are thinking about them, you may wish to consider buying a different kind of gift. For example, you can name a star, adopt an animal, plant a tree or make a donation to a charity on their behalf.

Look after yourself
Christmas for separated families can be an emotionally difficult time. Not only for children, but for parents as well. This may be your first Christmas without your children or without your husband, wife or partner. Take some time to think about how you might feel and then think about ways of coping. If old traditions are too painful, create some new ones. If you won’t have chance to see your children, write a letter and raise a toast to them. If you are going to be on your own, with or without your children, think about whether you might spend some time with friends or relatives.

So hopefully some of this advice will be useful. No matter what, have as nice a day as possible. Get stuck into the big box of Quality Street (it’s Christmas so chocolate is allowed as soon as you open your eyes!), have some fizz (did I mention that?!) followed by a wee snooze before the last ever Downtown Abbey! And from all of us at MTM Family Law, Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2016.

Please note our offices are closed from 12 noon on Thursday 24th December 2015, until 9am on Tuesday 5th January 2016. If you require urgent family law advice during this time then please email us on general@mtmfamilylaw.co.uk.

Don’t Stay Together For The Kids

The following is an extract from the Herald on Monday 23rd November 2015 referring to a survey undertaken by ComRes, commissioned by Resolution and supported by Consensus Collaboration Scotland. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but the heading tells you the conclusion so no need to read any further from here really, unless you are particularly interested and want to know a little bit more! But this new research does tell us that unhappily married parents who stay together ‘for the children’ may not be acting for the best, and that children tell unhappily married parents: don’t stay together for the kids.

“A poll of young people aged 14-22 who had been through a parental separation or divorce, found a large majority (82 per cent) said that even if they had been upset at the time they felt it was ultimately better that their parents split rather than staying together unhappily.

The research also found that children and young people want greater involvement in decision-making during the divorce process.

However half of young people (50 per cent) indicated that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live (49 per cent) following their parents’ separation or divorce. While this needs to be carefully handled – 88 per cent of young people said it is important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between their parents – but nearly half (47 per cent) of children and young people polled said they had not understood what was happening during a parental separation or divorce and would have liked to know more. Nearly two thirds (62 per cent) felt they had played no part in any of the decision making process about the separation.

However many common concerns about the impact of family break up on children, were not borne out by the findings 50 per cent of young people agreed that their parents had put their needs first during a separation or divorce and only two in ten (19 per cent) had felt – or been made to feel – that they were in some way to blame for the domestic breakdown. Asked what advice they would give divorcing parents, one young person said, “Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms”; while another said children “will certainly be very upset at the time but will often realise, later on, that it was for the best.”

While most young people preserved good relations with their mother and wider family members following a break up, their relationship with their father worsened for nearly half of all children. Some 45 per cent said their relationship with their mother had improved, but only 19 per cent said their relationship with their father had improved – against 46 per cent who said it deteriorated.

Parenting expert and author Sue Atkins says: “Children want to feel involved and empowered with relevant information about their parents’ divorce and what it means for them. They also want to see their parents behaving responsibly, such as to not argue in front of them.

“As the long distance parent, dads must work hard to maintain their relationship with their child. They may feel angry that this task falls on their shoulders since they may not have initiated the divorce in the first place and it’s easy to feel like a victim and spend their time and energy blaming their ex. But being a long distance parent doesn’t mean that a dad has to automatically disappear from their child’s life.”

Parenting Apart

Parenting Apart

 

A new free service that helps parents put kids first and cope with problems after separation is now available around Scotland from August 2015.

 

More than one in three children are now likely to experience their parents getting divorced or separating before they turn 16. The charity Relationships Scotland has launched “Parenting Apart” support sessions for couples that are splitting up, already living apart or those getting divorced. So now, for the first time ever in Scotland, parents can go along to free support sessions, wherever they live and whether they are going through the legal system or not. Most of the problems that couples go through when they separate are emotional or about their children. Relationships Scotland says parents can move forward without kids getting stuck in the middle.

 

The charity is working with the Scottish Government to provide Scottish families with the same opportunities as parents have in England and Wales. In Scotland the support for separated parents is on a voluntary basis rather than as part of the legal system.

 

Parenting Apart was piloted in South Lanarkshire for the last 6 years. The project has already helped over 40 couples tackle problems head on like dealing with conflict, finances, making joint decisions and how to communicate with kids after separation. Thanks to new funding of £200,000 from the Scottish Government this service is now being rolled out across Scotland.

 

Bernadette Lynass, Development Worker at Relationships Scotland said, “It can be hard when you are emotionally tied up in the situation. How do you talk to the kids about your partner? If people are feeling frustrated with each other that often spills over. Parenting Apart is a strong foundation for getting through these problems.”

 

Sessions are for groups of mums and dads and can also be available on a one to one basis in some areas. The facilitators who lead the sessions are experienced family support professionals. Sessions last for 3 hours. To find out more go to http://www.relationships-scotland.org.uk/family-support/parenting-apart-groups

 

Also, if you want to talk about your parenting relationship either when living together or post separation, or you need family counselling, you can try talking to The Spark, the relationship experts. To find out more go to http://www.thespark.org.uk.

Scotland’s New Adoption Register

Last week, the Scottish Government  launched a new and improved website for adoptions in Scotland, the website being run by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) Scotland. This new website for Scotland’s Adoption  Register aims to improve the number of successful matches between children and prospective adopters, and will involve prospective adopters and social workers more directly in the process of finding families for some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.

The adoption process in Scotland is well known to be lengthy, and at times frustrating, and there are families out there looking for children who they can raise and love as their own. These children to need to find secure, stable and loving homes and it is hoped that the re-launch of the website, and its innovations, will help speed up the matching process to find suitable families for all the children who need them.

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 has placed Scotland’s Adoption Register on a national footing. This means every adoption agency in Scotland must use the Register, and must refer both children and approve adopters within a  time scale to be specified in the regulations to follow.

At MTM Family Law, we can assist in advising you on the adoption process. Quite often, we receive instructions in relation to step-parent adoptions too. If we can assist you in any way please just get in touch.

 

CO-PARENTING RULES FOR SEPARATED OR DIVORCED PARENTS

Whilst people may become ex-spouses or ex-partners when they separate, they do not become ex-parents. They need to try to become co-parents and get along better than when they were married or when they  lived together.
As parents you share responsibility for your child. You have a duty to talk to each other and make every effort to agree about how you will bring your child up. Even when you separate, this duty continues. You need each other to parent effectively. Co-operation, however difficult, is essential.

Here are some rules to remember:-

1.    Never say negative things about the other parent to the children or in front of the children.

2.    Never let your family, friends or others say negative things about the other parent to the children, or in front of the children. Be alert to the fact that children are sometimes listening to you on the phone and you may not be aware of that.

3.    Do not speak to each other in inflammatory ways either in person, by telephone or by text, and do not “wind” each other up deliberately. Provoking the other parent isn’t helpful. Again, children can be listening even if you’re not aware of this.  It can be useful to imagine your children in the room when you require to communicate with your ex. Some people have said that they have found it helpful to visualise their child’s face in front of them or visualise the child in the room.

4.    Exchange pleasantries in front of the children, no matter how difficult this may be for you, particularly at contact pick up and return times. It can help assure children that it is OK to spend time with both parents and to chat to either parent without upsetting the other.

5.    Never discuss disagreements or conflicts in front of the children.

6.    Agree a strategy or process for constructively discussing any issues which arise.

7.    Improve communication It is in the best interests of the children that you, as parents, can communicate effectively together.  Some suggestions are to set agreed times for communicating with each other, by telephone or in person, and avoid telephoning, texting, emailing etc at other times (unless there is an emergency or a real and genuine issue which requires to be dealt with immediately).  If you are going to meet up to discuss matters, try choosing a neutral venue, without the children being present. Or if that’s not possible, perhaps the parent who has the children during the agreed communication time could initiate the call. If you agree a time, stick to it – although please be mindful that events outwith your former partners control CAN happen! Answering machines, mobile phones, texting and voicemail may be helpful in communicating essential information.  Don’t message constantly though strike a balance.

8.    Share important information (such as medical information and school events) and agree common rules for bedtime, TV, discipline etc for your children. Online calendars to which both parents have access and can enter date and event information can help coordinate the arrangements for the children, and ensure there is less scope for confusion about who should be where and at what time. This can cut down on stress and ensure each party knows when they are shouldering the responsibility of the football run, swimming, gymnastics, parties etc.

9.    Attend events for your children together when possible. You do not have to be best friends, but your child will benefit from seeing his/her parents together behaving civilly to one another.

10.    Respect the other parent’s parenting style, even if this differs from you own.  Accept that if the other parent does things differently from you, this may not be exactly how you would like it done but it may just be “good enough”. Although one parent’s parenting style may be different, both parents should still agree common rules for bedtime, discipline etc as above.

11.    Make your children’s needs more important than your needs (for example, be flexible so as not to interfere with children’s school and social activities) and be willing to give up some of “your” time to make these things happen.

12.    Help your child understand Your child needs to understand what is happening to their family. It is your job as mum or dad to explain. Your child should not be made to blame himself or herself for the breakup. Don’t help your child turn against the other parent because they think that is what you want. You can help your child think about how he or she feels about the breakup. Listen to what your child has to say about how he or she is feeling, and about what he or she thinks of any arrangements that have to be made. Involve your child if they are old enough, but don’t place the burden of decision making on them – that is your job to decide with the other parent.

13.    Respect the other parent’s time with your children. Part of this is to always be on time and five minutes early if possible.  Never leave children on the doorstep.

14.    Any changes in the schedule must be discussed with the other parent first before informing the children.

15.    Do not place children in loyalty conflicts.

16.    Do not quote what children may have said to or about another parent.

17.    Do not accept what children say about the other parent as accurate without checking with the other parent.

18.    Do not let solicitors and courts make decisions about your children that you should make as parents.

19.    Take responsibility for following these rules even if the other parent does not.

20.    Move Forward. Leave the past behind.

CHANGES IN CHARGES FOR CHILDREN

As from 30th June 2014, anyone who makes an application for child support maintenance to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has to pay a £20 fee to the Secretary of State, to enable child support calculations to be commenced.  The application fee will be waived if the applicant is under 19 or is a victim of domestic violence or abuse.  For a person to be considered “a victim of domestic violence or abuse” for these purposes, the abuse must have been reported to “an appropriate person” such as a Court, the police, a medical professional, social or educational services, a lawyer or a specialist support organisation including refuge.

Under the Child Support Fees (Regulations) 2014, in addition to the initial £20 application fee, a further “collection charge” will apply to both the paying parent and the receiving payment if the “Collect and Pay” option is used.  In this case, the paying parent will have to pay the assessed maintenance plus an additional 20% collection fee. The receiving parent will also pay a 4% collection fee which is to be deducted from the maintenance amount. So if the assessed maintenance amount is £100 per week, then the paying parent will have to pay £120, but the receiving parent will only get £96 of this. The DWP is effectively charging parents a total of 24%  of assessed child maintenance to use its Child Maintenance Service. According to some figures, the estimated revenue from collection fees may be as high as £1.2 billion over the next ten years.  Initially, the proposed charges were higher but even these charges as introduced will have an impact on low income families with money going to the DWP rather than the children for whom financial assistance is actually intended.

Not everyone will need to pay collection charges: collection fees will not need to be paid if the parties agree and are able to use the “Direct Pay” option (for Child Maintenance Service cases) (or the “Maintenance Direct” option for certain pre-existing claims through the Child Support Agency). This is where the amount of maintenance is calculated, but is not collected. The paying parent makes payment direct to the receiving parent and neither have to pay any collections fees.

If payments are not maintained then the receiving parent can ask the CMS (or CSA) to take action to enforce payment.  With older Child Support Agency cases both parents must agree to use “Maintenance Direct” before it can be set up and there will be no collection fees or enforcement charges if the case moves to the collection service. However, with new applications which must now proceed through the Child Maintenance Service, enforcing payment will mean changing a case to “Collect & Pay” in which case both parents will have to pay collection fees and the paying parent will have to pay enforcement charges as well.

Parents who have existing Child Support cases will shortly receive letters from the Child Maintenance Service advising them their cases will close in six months unless they convert to the new child support system.  Whilst the ethos behind the introduction of the new changes and the new charges is to encourage estranged partners to communicate with each other better (and deal with finances for their children themselves rather than through the Government) it is often exceedingly difficult for separated parents to communicate about even the most routine of matters, such as dates and times for contact, never mind the touchy subject of finances, particularly in the aftermath of what could have been acrimonious relationship breakdown.