There are few more upsetting and unsettling experiences for a family to endure than divorce. The most bitter of separations can tear families asunder, forcing children to choose between their parents when living arrangements are negotiated. Are the thoughts, hopes and wishes of children respected when parents split? More importantly, what rights are conferred on children to decide their own fate?
Few separations are pleasant, but some are more destructive than others. In the worst cases, families can endure extreme emotional distress, psychological anguish, physical violence and financial ruin. No child wants to be caught in the middle of an acrimonious break-up, but many are the subject of heated exchanges between parents.
Though it’s difficult to appreciate at the time, parents ought to realise that their children have an important role to play in the divorce process. They are not pawns to be manoeuvred and manipulated strategically, nor are they a type of chattel to be fought over alongside household items such as the television and toaster. Children have their own opinions. Most know what they want and some even know who they want. It is important that children who are able to articulate their thoughts are given a voice. It is even more important that they are heard by those in a position of power or influence.
Family law solicitors are not the cut-throat legal eagles depicted on television. In most cases, they aim to establish a workable separation that benefits everybody equally. However, some degree of push and pull is involved in complex, high-profile cases, which often require lawyers to focus on the division of assets more than anything else.
Solicitors specialising in family law should, however, provide mediation and dispute resolution services, which are intended to resolve conflicts using diplomacy. Children are often able to voice their concerns at such meetings, providing parents with the opportunity to listen to their opinions in a relatively relaxed, comfortable environment. Mediation can ensure that families continue to function in as normal a way as possible for the benefit of children when parents divorce.
Sometimes mediation is not enough. Some parents are too embittered to objectively discuss familial concerns when a divorce is in the process of being settled. Some parents even refuse to entertain the possibility of negotiating terms, leaving children caught in the middle of a row that could last many years. When a compromise cannot be reached between two parents who both want custody of their children, the court must intervene.
As with solicitors specialising in family law, judges who deal with divorces are required to balance the interests of all sides to reach an equitable solution. This almost always means discussing issues with children, but the judge cannot rely solely on the wishes of a child. Ultimately, the responsibility of a judge is to make a decision that is in the child’s best interests.
Issued by the Family Proceedings Court, a Residence Order is a formal legal declaration stating with whom a child will reside until a certain age. The order might also outline visitation rights for the person who was not granted parental responsibility for the child in question.
If a Residence Order is granted to the father, he will retain parental responsibility until the child reaches the age of 18. If the order is granted to the mother, she will have parental responsibility up until the child’s sixteenth birthday, at which point the child can decide where he or she lives. Before this age, the child can seek leave to apply for a Residence Order to be granted.
This guest post was contributed by Lloyd on behalf of Switalskis.