If you are contemplating a separation from your children’s father, then one of the first considerations is to help your children adjust from being a family under one roof to a family in two separate homes.

Separating your emotions from the situation or person can be challenging, and it can take time to transition your relationship with your ex to a relationship solely as a co-parent. It is important to ensure that the children are not caught in the middle, and the changes ahead do not prevent you from communicating effectively with the children’s father on what is best for them.

If you are struggling to talk to the children about your recent separation, then I can recommend the following books for younger children: Two Homes, By Claire Masurel and Kady MacDonald Denton, and My Family’s changing by Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker. For older children, I can recommend Suitcase kid by Jacqueline Wilson and It’s not the end of the world by Judy Blume.

Where possible, separated parents are encouraged to agree the arrangements for the children. The family court will only make an order in respect of the children if necessary. Generally, the family court supports a consistent and regular arrangement where the children spend time with both parents unless there are safeguarding concerns about the children being in the care of one parent.

What if I can’t reach an agreement with the other parent?

I recommend a parenting plan as this can be a useful starting point for a discussion with the other parent. Here is an example 

If you cannot reach an agreement directly, then both parents can attend mediation. Family mediation is a voluntary and confidential process for parents to set a child focused agenda for the way in which the arrangements for their children are made. Generally, parents who can come to an agreement in mediation are more likely to maintain an amicable relationship post separation compared with parents who use the court process.  

If mediation is unsuitable then you can instruct a solicitor to write on your behalf and try to resolve it through correspondence.  Either parent can make an application to the family court for a Child Arrangements Order (which used to be called custody and access, then residence and contact). This is often seen as a last resort. The Children Act 1989 governs the law on disputes relating to the children. The court can make an order which specifies where the children live and how much time the children spend with both parents.

The family court considers a child’s welfare is of paramount consideration. This means that the children’s best interests are at the heart of the matter. Every case is different. To determine what arrangements will be best for the children the court will apply the welfare checklist to help it make its decision. The welfare checklist examines the children’s physical, emotional and educational needs, wishes and feelings in light of their age and understanding, any harm which the children has suffered or is at risk of suffering, and other factors too.