Sadly, parents separate, and this can be for all sorts of reasons. If they are married or if both of them are named on the birth certificate, then they both have equal parental responsibility for their children. On a day to day basis they need to make decisions together as to where the children should have their main home and go to school, but equally important is to make sure that the children can spend time with each of them. Provided that there are no safety considerations, parents can usually agree what will be best for the children and sort this out between them.
Shared care is an ideal situation if it can be managed appropriately. This does not mean that the children spend absolutely equal time with each parent, but does mean that the parents recognize the part that they each have to play in their children’s lives and arrange time with this in mind, but still allowing for the needs of the children to have their own social lives with their friends and to engage in hobbies and interests outside school. This is not so much of a problem if both parents are in the same area but can prove more challenging if one lives further away from where the children are at school and are engaging with friends and activities.
All of this is ideal, but problems do arise. In the first instance mediation is often helpful (and indeed must be tried before court action is taken). It gives parents an opportunity of airing the issues which are causing problems with an independent third party and discussing the situation constructively. If that fails, then court may be the next step.
A court will always look at what is best for the child even if this sometimes seems to disadvantage one parent. Depending on the age of the child, their wishes and feelings may be important in making decisions. A court would look at the effect on the child of any proposed change and weigh up the risks and benefits. It would look at the child’s educational and other needs and the relationships between children in a family and also between them and other important adults such as grandparents who may have a role to play.
One important point to remember is that arrangements for children and financial support are not interlinked. Contact with children should never be withheld in an attempt for enforce payment. It is the welfare of the child and the relationship that is at the heart of thinking here.
If the court should find that a parent is a risk to a child but that that risk could be managed and the relationship should be supported, then there are arrangements which could be put in place for contact to be supported or fully supervised.