50/50 shared care? Just part of the merry go round?

Why a presumption of 50/50 Shared Care is a waste of time.

…a story from the near future when there is a presumption of 50/50 Shared Care:

`…newly appointed President of the Family Division Sir James Holman has issued new Practice Guidance in relation to the quantum of time children spend with their separated parents. All courts have been advised that any parent wishing to depart from a routine that provides children with equal amounts of time with each parent will be required to demonstrate why this view is in line with the paramountcy principle. Fathers rights groups hailed this as a major step forward, whilst Women’s Aid…’

`Hello, Family Law Assistance – how can we help?’

50/50 shared care? Just part of the merry go round?`Hi there. I’m looking for advice. I separated from my ex 3 months ago. She won’t let me see the kids. I’ve told her that the law means they are meant to be with me for half the time but she won’t listen’.

`Have you tried mediation? It’s always best to try to avoid court and besides it’s a requirement if you are going to make an application.

Contact National Family Mediation and organise to meet them. You’ll attend a MIAM. If mediation doesn’t work you’ll need section 14 of the C100 signed and stamped in any case’.

`Already done that. I went to the MIAM’.

`How did it go?’

`She went to the first one but said she wouldn’t agree to anything more than the kids seeing me on alternate weekends and mid week contact. Because there’s 50/50 Shared Care now isn’t there? She didn’t listen and refused to go to another session’.

`You’re right. There is a presumption of 50/50 Shared Care now’.

50/50 Shared Care. Would it change anything?`OK thanks. She told me I had committed DV against her and abused the kids which is why she won’t agree to anything else. Will the court ignore that?’

`Allegations made will either be ignored, or you’ll be asked about them. Possibly order a Finding of Fact’.

`Will that slow things down? Will I get my kids half the time until then?’

`It’s unlikely at this stage. The court has an obligation to investigate allegations. Since the changes to Practice Direction 12J were made last year however contact may be difficult for the moment’.

`I was told that if the kids are with her and not seeing me it’ll make things harder for me to get 50/50 is that true?’

`The court has to work in the best interests of the child and if they’ve not seen you for a long time it may want to work on a schedule of increasing contact…’

Sound familar? How would a presumption of 50/50 work?

Will my ex stop me taking my kids abroad on holiday?

Holiday times are busy here at Family Law Assistance Towers. It’s up there with Christmas, Easter and any other occasion you really, really don’t want ruined.

It’s also a situation where there is a lot of disinformation and misunderstanding.

So to cut to the chase, here are a few truth bombs:

  1. It doesn’t matter if you or your ex has a Residence Order (or neither of you do) – if you have PR for your kids you can get a passport for them – you will need to provide the Passport Agency with a copy of your court order to do this. Make sure you do this way ahead of travel.
  2. If your ex has a Residence Order and you don’t you need his/her permission (it doesn’t have to be written permission mind) to take the kids abroad for up to 28 days.
  3. If there is a Shared Residence Order or no order at all made with regard to residence at all you can both take the kids abroad for up to 28 days without the other parent’s permission.
  4. You don’t have to give the other parent details of where you are going – but do it, OK? If you’re withholding it you’re liable to be seen as `sticking it to the ex’ rather than doing it for any child-focused reason. Flight details and the resort, etc. It’s a just normal courtesy.
  5. If your ex has the passports and refuses to hand them over organise mediation (if there is time) or make an application for a Specific Issues Order (if there isn’t) – completing a C100 form. Bear in mind with this one that delays in the court are especially pronounced around holiday time so make sure you organise all of this plenty of time ahead. You will get a hearing date after your holiday if you don’t get your skates on.

Hope this helps. Unless you have a court order that modifies or limits it, it is all about PR (Parental Responsibility). As I repeat ad nauseum it’s not really about Residence Orders despite everyone absolutely positively needing one to make sure the kids aren’t taken away.

4 of the biggest myths in the Family Court

As sure as night follows day, the same misunderstandings about how the Family Courts work will be stated, restated, restated again and for good measure retweeted/shared/argued about.

Disregard this sort of thing and you’re not going to help yourself.

The sad thing is that many of them make things harder for people going through the whole process. It makes them do things that don’t help anyone (including their kids) or themselves, pitches them into conflicts that quite frankly aren’t worth happening and generally case trouble. Even if you know these but if the other party doesn’t it will often lead them to act in a way that seems irrational and counterproductive.

There are far more than 4 myths that do this (and I would put money on the fact I’ll be adding more of them as time progresses) but here are some of the `best’.

So here goes…

No.1 – If you have a residence order you can phone the police to get the kids back if your ex refuses to return them.

No. It. Won’t. Phone your local station and say this. Try it. Forget for a moment that this sort of dispute and the police only deal with criminal matters – not civil ones (bit of a spoiler really…).

You: Hello police? I’ve got a residence order and my ex won’t give me the kids back! Can you go round there and take them off him/her?

PC999: Do you have any welfare concerns?

You: Not really, it’s just that I’m the resident parent and he/she is breaking a court order! They should be with me! I’m the main parent!

PC999: OK…not much we can do I am afraid. You need to speak to your solicitor to take the matter back to court. Tell you what…we’ll go round there and advise him/her to hand them over and do a welfare check but that’s all we can do really.

That’s if the police follow the rules, mind. I do know of a couple of cases where officers have removed children without an Emergency Protection Order or without sufficient welfare concerns….and they have found themselves having a very serious chat with the Inspector about how removing kids from parents with PR without good reason tends to go down very badly.

So the moral of this story kids? Don’t think a residence order will stop your ex taking the kids.

No. 2 – An enforcement application will get your ex to abide with an order.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news here – because going back to court is kind of the only option you have if your ex decides he/she is going to ignore the damn thing. Statistically you have less than a 1 in 50 chance of an enforcement application succeeding.

What normally happens is you will make an enforcement application…and your ex will  justify breaking the order by saying it isn’t working. What he/she should do of course is talk to you about agreeing a change to arrangements or making his/her own application for a variation. But seeing as that’d cost him/her £215 it’s much chearper and easier just to say I’m changing things. If you don’t like it – tough’ compelling the non resident parent to either say a) `Yes OK’ or b) Filling in the c79 and paying the fee himself/herself.

Followed by your ex seeking to hijack your application and turning it into a variation matter. This happens in a depressingly high number of situations this is what happens. Should you decide to apply for a penal notice don’t think one will be ordered either. You are more likely to be accused of trying to punish your ex.

No. 3 – If you get married your new partner automatically gets PR.

Nope nope nope. Doesn’t work like that. A stepparent has no legal relationship with a stepchild. None at all. If they want PR they’ll either have to get the agreement of everyone who has PR already. Or a court order.

That’s it.

No. 4 – When it comes to financial matters in divorce you get out what you put in.

Again…no. Not true. Consider the following assets and liabilities:

  • The large family estate consisting of a portfolio of properties in the UK that William the Conqueror gave to a distant ancestor of yours.
  • An eye watering credit card bill incurred by your ex as a result of the luxury cruise he/she had to take to get over your separation, comforted only by the new partner he/she left you for.
  • The money earned by your business that you’ve slaved for while your ex has sat on velvet cushions and ate chocolates.

It doesn’t matter where the money came from. Or where it went. Or who earned it. Or who spent it. All assets and liabilities go into the marital `pot’ and are divided up according to need. Remember though – money follows the children. Their needs come first.

It’s also worth remembering that as we’re talking about the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (and not the Children Act 1989) behaviour isn’t a factor in most cases. So attempting to tarnish your ex’s character seldom makes any difference.

Take the time to learn the basics here. It’ll likely save you a lot of heartache and also give you some perspective on your own situation.

When you should ask for 50/50 shared custody

I can answer this in one word.

Never.

I can categorically state this is the case for a few reasons. They being:

  1. There’s no such things as `custody’. It’s a term that hasn’t had legal meaning since Milli Vanilli were in the charts; if you’re too young to have heard of them that should tell you something.
  2. You’re probably confusing the rights and responsibilities conferred by PR (Parental Responsibility) with where the kid in question spends his or her time.
  3. You may as well tell the court/CAFCASS/social worker/the ex’s solicitor `It’s my right! I’ve got a legal right!‘ Try THAT and see what reaction you’ll get (hint: It’ll probably be one you don’t much like).
  4. Because there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Guys…this is a HUGE red flag. As well as being seen to shout the odds about your rights you’re also demonstrating said rights are more important than the kids (dividing them up like the furniture or the CD collection as the old phrase goes), that you don’t know what you’re actually asking for and that you know nothing about the actual process.

Go ahead, all guns blazing and there is a good chance you’ll be asked all about it when that nice barrister is trying to convince the court that the judge shouldn’t make an order for that by asking you questions that’ll make you look nasty, selfish, stupid or hopefully (for him/her) all three. You’re making it easy for them (or me if I am helping your ex).

With this in mind the `take homes’ from this post are simple:

  1. Learn the terminology. It’s not about custody’ these days. It’s not even about residence’. It’s about `Who the child lives with’. They are just about the same thing, true – but you want your message to be clear and not open to (wilful) misinterpretation.
  2. Understand division of time and PR are like chalk and cheese. Where a child spends his/her time has absolutely nothing to do with rights and responsibilities under PR.
  3. Prove what you want is in the best interests of the child. The most common thing parents say when asked why this is the case is `Because it will show the kids both parents are equal’. The court won’t accept this. Don’t waste your time saying it. Seriously.
  4. Be patient. If this is your ultimate goal understand that it will take time – especially if there is no contact at all now.

I’m not saying I don’t think shared parenting is a good idea. Quite the opposite. But if this is going to be happen, avoid the obvious pitfalls. There are enough of those without making basic mistakes.

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