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Child Focussed or Childs Play?

View profile for Georgia Schein
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A common trend in child proceedings is for parents to become overly absorbed in their own opinions and vendettas, whether consciously or subconsciously. This often results in parents losing sight of the true focus of the proceedings and what is paramount to the Court: the best interests of the child.

Given the stressful and emotional challenges parties face when bringing proceedings before the Court, it is definitely not uncommon for parents to attempt to weaponize their child to gain an advantage over the other parent. This behaviour can stem from personal conflicts, emotional coping mechanisms, or self-protection tactics during an upsetting separation.

This blog emphasises the importance of remaining objective in child proceedings, focussing solely on the child’s best interests and the ability to separate one’s own needs from those of the child.

Key Considerations in Child Proceedings:

  1. Proactiveness
    Demonstrating to the Court that you have attempted to amicably reach child arrangements prior to initiating Court proceedings is crucial. New NCDR (Non-Court Dispute Resolution) rules, effective 29 April 2024, encourage a more collaborative approach to resolving family matters, making it far less likely for parties to bypass this step.
  2. Creating a Positive Co-Parenting Regime
    Regardless of how the agreement is reached (with or without a Court Order) or personal feelings towards the other parent, it is essential to remain impartial and create a positive environment for the child to develop and grow. Collaboration, structure and effective communication are key to fostering the most supportive environment for a child’s development.
  3. Keeping the Child Outside of Parental Conflict
    Ensuring that the child is not placed in compromising situations, such as being asked to take sides or used to gather information about the other parent is vital. Do not defame the other parent, but instead, encourage the child to enjoy time with both parents and support a positive relationship between the child and the co-parent. It is important to recognise that children need support from both parents.
  4. Understanding the Child’s Wishes
    When relevant, take into account the child’s thoughts and feelings, even if this may be challenging or even at your detriment. For example, shared care arrangements might need to be adjusted based on the child’s preferences and needs.

    The extent to which a child’s wishes are considered throughout proceedings depends on their age and understanding of the situation. While the Court is not bound by a child’s wishes and feelings, these can carry significant weight if the child is of a sufficient age and demonstrates maturity.
  5. Is the child coping?
    Be attentive to signs that the child may be struggling with current arrangements. Unlike adults, children may not visibly display symptoms of stress of anxiety. Look for indicators such as physical exhaustion, changes in school performance, sleep difficulties, withdrawal from activities, or changes in eating habits.​

The Role of CAFCASS in Child Proceedings:
When children are subject to an application for care of supervision, CAFCASS collaborates with the Court to determine what is the best interests of the child. CAFCASS’ involvement begins before the First Hearing, conducting checks to establish any safeguarding or welfare concerns. Each parent is given an appointment to express any concerns they may have. Subsequently, CAFCASS prepares a letter detailing these findings, which is submitted to the Court at least three days prior to the First Hearing. The Court then determines the future involvement and role of CAFCASS. CAFCASS may be requested to commission a comprehensive report with further details to work alongside families to try and facilitate an agreement.

Our Family Law Team has extensive experience and is available to provide expert guidance on all matters relating to children. Please do not hesitate to get in touch.