One of the most important parts of our legal system is that which deals with children in the family situation. Divorce is never pleasant but can be particularly hard for the children who can often end up blaming themselves for their parents' separating.
What most people want to know if they are separating or divorcing is what will happen with the children, where will they live and how often will they see the other parent? Not surprisingly there are as many answers to this as there are separating couples so it is not possible to give specific advice here. What is clear from the law is that in any proceedings between the parents (divorce, financial, contact), when making an Order, the Court's paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child.
Good legal advice should always start with suggesting that the parents try to agree what will happen with the children between themselves and to propose mediation to help with the discussions where possible. Mediation adds an independent element to the discussions and can often be a useful way to sensibly discuss and resolve disputes about the children. Agreements of this kind have many advantages; they are flexible, they should allow for the arrangements to develop over time as the child grows, and it is more likely that sensible agreements will continue because both people will have had a part in them rather that having an arrangement forced upon them. Legal Aid may be available for mediation.
When agreement is not possible then it will be necessary to apply to the court under the Children Act 1989 to have the court make an order variously stating with whom the children should live and how often they will see the other parent. The court will often ask for a report from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to help it decide what decision to make in the best interest of the child. Although children are not generally represented in the proceedings, depending upon their age/maturity provision can be made for their wishes and views to be taken into account and they can take part in the CAFCASS reporting process. If it is necessary to submit to the court process then good legal advice is vital and solicitors on the Law Society's Family Law Panel have the specialist knowledge to deal with these cases.
Legal aid can be available for cases involving children dependent upon your income and savings. You should ask about this when seeing a solicitor.
The law can intervene also to protect children. Most often if the County Council Children Services team decide that a child is at risk of harm or neglect they will take steps to protect the child by placing them on the at risk register or by starting court proceedings which can lead to the child being permanently removed from home and placed in care or placed for adoption.
There is a broad range of reasons why the County Council may become involved and not all of them ever lead to court. Social Workers do try to help families stay together and if it is felt necessary to appoint a Social Worker then good legal advice would be to try to work with them and to see them as a support during a difficult time rather than as the enemy as it can so easily appear.
If matters do develop and court proceedings are threatened or started then getting the correct legal advice is most important. Again Law Society Family Panel membership shows that a solicitor has the experience and skills that you need. Legal aid is always available to parents involved in these types of court case irrespective of their income or other finances so it is worth while seeking advice from a solicitor contracted to grant this.