Disputes involving children
Family Mediation allows you to reach your own decisions about contact arrangements rather than having a Judge decide for you.
This means mediated agreements tend to work better and last longer.
In Family Mediation you sort out family arrangements over a number of joint meetings. The focus is on providing a safe and fair environment with the aim of moving forward and reaching agreement, and not on deciding whose fault it is. The mediator will help you to negotiate an agreement that takes account of the whole family’s needs.
Mediation can promote better quality communication between you and your ex-partner. It also helps to establish a sound foundation for continued good parenting. Mediation can be about children, property & finance, or both.
As a part of the mediation process, it is sometimes possible to bring the children in to meet the mediator and have a confidential discussion with them. The mediator will only feed back to the parents the points the child gives permission to feed back. This helps to create a safe place for children to offload how they feel about the current situation, any concerns they have and they can ask questions. Experience tells us that children find this process very helpful and they appreciate being asked what their feelings are as it says they matter. The feedback to the parents is usually helpful in guiding decisions which will then meet all the family’s needs. It helps parents to stay focused on what their children need.
National Family Mediation (NFM) is a network of professional family mediation providers based in England and Wales that work with families affected by relational breakdown. All providers aim to help clients achieve an outcome that works best for them and their family.
NFM Mediators routinely encourage parents to consider inviting their children to participate directly in the mediation process. We believe that most children appreciate the opportunity to be heard directly.
Parents are assured that:
- their children will not be asked to make choices or decisions
- we respect their parental authority
- children are seen only with the agreement of both parents
- we will discuss fully with them the process and purpose of a “listening meeting” before involving children
All NFM services also routinely offer other support services for children, like child counselling.
If you would like to get more information about mediation and/or make an appointment you can contact NFM direct on 0300 4000 636 or you can contact a looking for my nearest NFM mediation service in your area.
All services also take referrals from Solicitors, the court or other helping / support agencies
Child abduction happens “when a parent or a relative or someone acting on their behalf removes, retains, or conceals a child, under the age of 16, in breach of the other parent’s residence rights whether joint or sole”.
In the UK, it is a criminal offence for anyone 'connected with a child' under 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without 'appropriate consent' of any other person who has ‘parental responsibility’ for the child.
A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. However, the conditions for fathers vary.
- If the parents were married to each other at the time of the birth of the child, then each parent will have parental responsibility for the child. If they divorce, their respective parental responsibilities cannot be lost, short of adoption of the child.
- If the parents were not married to each other at the time of birth of the child, the father can acquire parental responsibility through an agreement with the mother; or a parental responsibility order, made by the court; or by registering the child’s birth jointly with the mother. He can also acquire it through a residence order, but this right will only last for the duration of the order.
- A woman who is the mother’s same-sex partner can now have parental responsibility in the same manner as a legal father.
A residence order is an order stating where a child should live. In cases where parents separate and there is a dispute about where their children should live, the court will decides this according to what it deems to be the ‘child’s welfare’. If the court makes a residence order in favour of a person or persons, they automatically have parental responsibility while that residence order is in force. They can also take the child outside England and Wales for up to a month at a time without needing the permission of any other persons who has parental responsibility or the court.
If your child is abducted or simply not returned from contact within the UK, you can contact the Police. They will want to know if you have a Residence Order and will find the child primarily to make sure they are ok and safe. They will talk to the parent holding the child to see if they have any right but also to talk to them about an amicable resolution. If a child is distressed, they have the power to return the child to the other parent.
If your child is abducted to, or illegally retained in, another country, the chances of recovering your child will depend on the customs and laws of that country as well as your relationship with the person who has taken the child. If your child has been abducted to a country which is a member of the Hague Convention, your Central Authority will help you put an application for the return of your child. If your child has been taken to a country that has not signed the Hague Convention, you may need to apply for permission to bring your child back to the UK through the courts of that country.
For further information visit the Parents and Abducted Children Together Website
For FAQs on child abduction visit Reunite Website
Parenting Post-Separation Programmes
Many parents are having problems maintaining contact with their children. In the past, these parents have found that the options open to them are both limited and expensive to pursue.
An answer in some cases may be for the court to be put in place a Contact Activity Direction. A Contact Activity Direction is when a parent takes part in an activity which is designed to either establish, maintain or improve contact. A contact activity can only be put in place as a court order or direction.The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration for the court when deciding whether to make such a direction.
A typical Contact Activity Direction may require one or both parents to attend programmes, classes with the underlying objective of getting contact to work for all concerned.
Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) (England Only)
The Courts are currently quite active in directing parents to a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP). The evidence has shown that parents get a lot out of this course.
You might assume this is like parenting classes where you are told how to raise your children but this is not true at all. The course is 4 hours long, usually delivered in two parts, often a week or so apart. Each group consists of several parents but you are never put on the same course as your ex-partner. You are given lots of information on how children cope with separation, tips to help them, ways of communicating with an ex- partner when conflict is high and information on how you can access other support depending on the situation. You are not made to share any information you don’t want to, so it’s quite informal and intended to be very supportive. You will also be given information about family mediation as often this is a next step.
Read more about the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP)
Working Together For Children (WT4C) (Wales only)
The WT4C helps parents (in some cases grand or step-parents) that are applying to the courts for divorce; separation or contact with children. It is focused on co-parenting after separation. The needs of children are central to the course. WT4C is a 4 hour programme which looks at the emotional and parenting aspects of separation. Parents will not attend the course together, but rather will be separately referred.
Indeed, the goal running throughout WT4C is to get separated parents working together in the best interests of their children. So you’ll be informed about the impact of conflict on children and about the ways in which children are often (unintentionally) placed in the middle of parents’ disagreements.
Time is spent looking at ways of improving communication with children and ex-partners. Finally parents consider the emotional aspects of separation and loss. They consider how they can move forward and identify their sources of support, including family mediation. The WT4C is helpful because it encourages both parents to see things from the child’s perspective, to listen and reflect, and to communicate and manage conflict more effectively with their ex-partner.
Many parents that attend the WT4C courses are apprehensive about coming, but their experiance of the course is generally positive and felt that the course was helpful.
Read more about the Working Together for Children (WT4C)
The Courts recognise that parents are generally best placed to know what is in their children's interests and are encouraging parents to work this out together, with the assistance of a qualified mediator. Courts might decide to direct parents to a separated parenting programme as outlined above alongside a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). They acknowledge that mediation is not suitable in every case but for the vast majority it represents an opportunity for you to find a solution that fits best with your family’s circumstances.
Since April 2011, anyone applying to the Courts for assistance in resolving a dispute about parenting or finances following relationship breakdown has had to comply with the Pre-Application Protocol. This requires you to attend a meeting to learn about mediation – a Mediation Information Meeting (MIAM).
Legal aid is no longer widely available for divorce proceedings although if you are seeing a mediator and are legally aided you will be entitled to Help with Mediation if you instruct a solicitor who undertakes Family Legal Aid work.
National Family Mediation (NFM) is a network of professional family mediation providers based in England and Wales that work with families affected by relational breakdown. All providers aim to help clients achieve an outcome that works best for them and their family
If you would like to get more information about mediation and/or make an appointment you can contact NFM direct on 0300 4000 636 or you can contact a NFM family mediation provider in your area.
All services also take referrals from Solicitors, the court or other helping / support agencies.