Resolving child arrangements – is court the only option?

29th April 2021

With a 38% rise in new disputes between parents involving their children, courts are facing an enormous workload which will lead to delays. But there are other ways to agree child care arrangements, and the courts are encouraging people to consider these.

The rise in disputes has been dramatic – Cafcass reported a total of 4,659 new private cases of disputes between parents for the month of March 2021, involving 6,627 children, a 38% increase compared to March 2020.

To avoid the frustration and inconvenience of delays, alternative ways of resolving the dispute are open to parents. If you are involved in a dispute, ask yourself:

  • What are you hoping to achieve? Having the end goal or solution clear in your mind enables your solicitor to assess the best way to achieve it.
  • How much are you willing to spend? This may play a part on how you resolve a dispute as costs vary for different processes.
  • What timescales do you have in mind? Court proceedings will not resolve themselves overnight. Your choice of process could be influenced by a deadline you have in mind such as a holiday or start of school term.

The alternatives

Mediation is an alternative to a court application. A mediator is an impartial and independent professional, trained to help regulate discussions between parties in the hope of reaching a compromise. It is not counselling. Often it is possible to share the cost of a mediator (if this is agreed) and in certain circumstances legal aid is still available. Mediation is almost guaranteed to be less costly than a court application and you are in control of the timings of appointments, rather than the court.

If mediation is not suitable for you, or you do not feel comfortable having direct discussions with the other parent, you can seek to resolve your agreement using solicitors. Many family lawyers sign up to Resolution’s Code of Conduct which encourages members of the profession to be co-operative in their dealings and seek to reduce animosity between the parties. Discussions between solicitors as experts in the law can often be very productive in avoiding a court application.

Your solicitor can also discuss or signpost you to potential therapeutic options. Separated parents often struggle with their communication. In highly stressful situations especially in the immediate aftermath of a relationship breakdown, communication can be very difficult as you navigate a new co-parenting relationship. Before you make an application to the court, if communication is a key issue in your situation, consider whether alternative programmes and therapeutic intervention will assist you and your family. An improvement in communication can avoid the need for court proceedings altogether if successful.

Sometimes, an application to the court is necessary and the most appropriate option to take, especially if you have tried the alternatives and a dispute remains. Obtaining specialist legal advice at the earliest opportunity is key as it will enable you to consider your options and make the decision that is best for you and your family.

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