5 FAQs – Children Disputes

Faq boyThis is the first in my summer series of Frequently Asked Questions that I will be addressing around children disputes.  Hopefully, this will go someway in unravelling the issues that many parents face regarding their children following a separation.

o       My wife has left me and taken the kids, I’ve no idea where they are!

If this happens, you can go to court and make an application called Disclosure of the Whereabouts of a Child.  In this application you will be asking a named body to provide an address for the child or for your wife.  For example, HMRC or the Benefits Agency is likely to have up to date contact information for anyone claiming a benefit, working or self-employed.  So, you could start there.

o       My husband just called to say that he is emigrating with the kids!

This is a very scary situation to be in because once you’re children have left the UK it is virtually impossible to enforce a UK court order.  You need to take urgent action.  An application can be made to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order.  You will then need to send copies of this Order to all ports out of the country (airports, seaports etc).  If your husband has already left then you will have to take action within the country he is now in.  In either case you should seek specialist advice to avoid life-changing delays in taking action.

o       My child has been staying with me and now says he doesn’t want to go back to his mum’s.  Do I have to force him?

This is a difficult question and depends on the particular circumstances.  I would say that both parents need to co-operate in this type of situation. Children often don’t mind whether they live with mum or dad so once they feel settled somewhere they may feel too relaxed to move again.  Understand why the child doesn’t want to go home.  Does he just want to enjoy one more night at your home? or does he have a fear of returning home? Different problems call for different solutions.  If the child just wants to spend one more night at yours then ask mum if that will be okay.  But if the child has a fear of returning home then you will need to assess whether there is real danger or is it just a question of not liking the method of discipline at home? If there is a genuine risk of harm you should discuss this with the other parent.  If an agreement cannot be reached then you should refer the matter to court urgently or the other parent could do this without you knowing and without giving the court the full picture.

yellow school signo       My girlfriend has told the headteacher not to let me near my child at school. What can I do about it?

Once a relationship breaks down it is common for one side to set about forming a band of supporters.  Among this can be getting the school headteacher on side.  It is best to take swift action to stop this becoming a major obstacle to you contributing in your child’s school life.  But at the same time I would suggest gentle action.  So you need to understand exactly what your rights are and, if court proceedings have started, what Orders have been made.  Often fathers don’t realise that they have parental responsibility and are therefore perfectly entitled to engage in their child’s education.  Also, although court proceedings have started and are well underway often, no court Orders have actually been made in favour of father or mother.  So make sure you know what you need to know so you can lawfully assert your rights at every step.

o       My wife and I have just separated and she won’t let me see the kids.  What can I do?

It’s no surprise that by the time a couple has separated, feelings are running high and bitterness has set in.  Typically, the husband moves out of the house and leaves the mother alone with the children.  No clear plans have been put in place regarding the children and the mother is left to just get on with it.  I would say this is a crucial time to maintain the status quo as regards the children.  If you usually do the school run, or some of it, then continue to do so; if you usually help with out of school activities, either by watching the other children at home or with the driving to and fro, then find a way to continue helping with this.  Remember also, how expensive it can be bringing up children.  So try not to just cut off any financial contribution you were making when you were living together.  Obviously, you will now have your own separate expenses but try to remember all the little things that add up.  It’s the extra things like paying for school days out, endless non-uniforms days, unexpectedly having to replace lost clothes and even shoes!  So try not to stop helping with all this without discussing it first.  This is not legal stuff, it’s just tips to set the foundation to build your future “two families” lifestyle.

So you will be taking this time immediately after separating to establish that you will be parenting the children together.  During this period, you should also be discussing long-term arrangements for you to see the children.

If this cannot be agreed then you may need to use a third person to help with your discussions.  You might find that it is impossible to find someone who is objective enough or who has the skills to help you resolve the issues between you.  You can look then to getting professional help from a relationship counselor or a Mediator.  You should, hopefully, be able to arrive at an understanding that you can both live with and which suit the needs of your children.  However, you can only ask the other parent to attend Mediation but s/he is not obligated to do so.

If you’ve worked your way through the above process but still have not been able to see your children then, as a last resort, you should refer the matter to court.  You will be asking the court to make an Order that you can see your children.  This Order will set out the minimum amount of time that you should spend with your children.  Going to court may be your only option but it is not one than should be taken likely.  Children disputes at court are extremely stressful, very expensive and can create permanent bitterness between the parents and even wider family members.

If you do decide to go down this route then you should get your application into court quickly to avoid delay.  If there is a long delay in you seeing your children then the court can be persuaded to conclude that the children no longer remember you.  If contact is agreed or Ordered in such circumstances it is likely to be set at a Contact Centre.  Contact Centres are public places designed to help estranged parents re-establish their relationship with their children.  Parents report that it feels like an artificial setting and it is a difficult way to interact with children of any age in such an environment.

So from the outset, if representing yourself, you will need to have a working knowledge of the court system and have a good case plan laid out so that you can keep your case moving forward.

Well, that’s it for this week.

Look out for further blog posts of Frequently Asked Questions every Friday, or feel free to Get in Touch  to arrange a consultation or with a FAQ suggestion that I can answer in the next blog post.

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Rachel Toussaint is a Consultant Solicitor at Rogols Consultancy, Birmingham UK.  She is a human rights advocate especially as it relates to immigration, family law & civic duty.  She is also a consultant for small businesses and entrepreneurs. In her blog she shares legal tips to empower clients to quickly and effectively resolve their legal disputes. http://www.racheltoussaint.wordpress.com

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 Images courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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About Rachel Toussaint
Headed by Solicitor, Rachel Toussaint, we are a dedicated boutique niche law practice specialising in immigration for people who wish to come to the United Kingdom to visit friends or relatives; to study; to work or start a business; to join family members or people who are already in the UK and wish to stay here. We will carry out an initial free telephone assessment of your status and advise you on the best way forward to acheive your desired outcome. We have particular expertise in immigration that involves human rights and European law as it applies to the UK. Call 0121 448 9255 for your free "Immigration Status Check".

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