Tags: Children, Divorce, Domestic Abuse
Regular listeners to ‘The Archers’ will know that Rob and Helen Titchener were back in court recently, this time to deal with the issue of Rob’s contact with his son, Jack, and that Henry, Helen’s son, and Rob’s step-son, should return to live with his mother.
Rob is to have supervised contact with Jack once a month, with no formal arrangements being made for him to see Henry.
Rob and Helen are, of course, fictional, but many real-life separating parents find themselves at odds about what the arrangements for their children should be (although hopefully, most are not living quite such stressful lives as Helen!)
We take a look at how decisions about children are decided in real life.
Firstly, did you know that in most cases, the court won’t be involved at all? If you separate from your spouse or partner,, ideally you will be able to agree between yourselves what arrangements will be best for your children, and if you can, you don’t need the court to be involved. It is not necessary to have any kind of formal agreement or order in place, although it may be useful to have something written down that you can both refer to, particularly if the arrangements are complicated (for instance, to fit around shift work or other irregular hours)
If you are not able to arrange things privately, the next step would normally be to try to work something out with the help of a solicitor, or through mediation, or a combination of the two. If, like Helen, you have been the victim of Domestic Abuse or Violence then you are not required to go to mediation before applying to court, although in most other cases, there is a requirement to at least try mediation, before an application can be issued at court.
Only if everything else fails would you find yourself going to court, for Magistrates or a Judge to decide what the arrangements should be.
In making that decision, the Court has to decide what is in the best interests of the child or children concerned. To do so, the Judge or Magistrates will consider the “Welfare Checklist”, which gives guidance about what factors will be taken into account – these include considering the wishes and feeling of the child (taking into account the child’s age, and level of understanding), any harm they have suffered or are at risk of suffering, which can include not only physical harm, but also any emotional harm, stress or neglect. The list also refers to the effect of any changes on the child, and the ability of the adults concerned to meet the child’s needs.
In the Titcheners’ case, no doubt the Judge would have considered the harm Henry would have suffered seeing Rob’s abusive behaviour to Helen, and the potential harm he, and Jack, might suffer in future, both physical and emotional. He will have thought about the effect of changes in circumstances – Henry has been living with his step-father since Helen was arrested, so moving him back to her care would cause some disruption to his routine, so the Judge would have thought about whether the benefit of moving him would outweigh that disruption, and would also have taken into account the benefits to Jack and Henry of them living together.
Judge Loomis made no arrangements for Henry to have contact with Rob. In real life, this might have been decided differently. Henry is not Rob’s biological child, but Rob has been the father figure in his life, and a Judge in real life might well take this into account, particularly as Rob is to continue to see Henry’s brother, Jack. It would be open to Rob to make a new application in the future , if he wanted, to try to get to see Henry as well.
The Judge also decided that Rob’s contact with Jack should be supervised, and limited to one visit a week. This is relatively unusual – the court starts out from the position that a child has the right to have contact with, and to maintain a relationship with, both of her parents, and normally will assume that each parent is capable of caring for the child during contact, unless there is evidence that that is not the case.
In the Titcheners’ case, a formal psychological assessment of Rob was carried out, and the Judge (having presumably read the report, and heard evidence from the Psychologist concerned) followed the psychologist’s recommendations to limit and supervise Rob’s contact with Jack, to avoid the risk of emotional harm. It is unusual in real life to have a psychologist’s report in private family proceedings, but where there is a report from an expert, a Judge will generally give this significant weight.
Finally, Rob had applied to change Jack’s name, from Jack Archer, to Gideon Titchener. The Judge rejected his application. It’s relatively unusual for parents to fall out over a child’s first name; it is more common for one parent to want to change a child’s surname, perhaps because a mother has married and changed her own name, or where a divorced mother has reverted to her maiden name. As with other types of application, the court has to consider the effect of any change, and whether it is in the best interests of the child or not. In this case, the Judge may well have decided that there was no benefit to Jack in changing his name, and might be benefits to him in leaving things as they were, not least that he would share a name with his mother and brother, and that there would be no change which might be confusing for him.
If you are in dispute with your children’s other parent, we can help. Most cases are less dramatic than the Titcheners’, but any dispute over arrangements for children is difficult and stressful for all concerned, including the children themselves. Our experienced family lawyers will work with you to help you achieve the best outcome for your family, and, as members of Resolution, will try to encourage you to resolve matters by negotiation and agreement, rather than through the courts, wherever possible. If you do need to go to court, we will ensure that you understand the process, and your options.