When parents separate, decisions have to be made about where their children are going to live. The court’s view is that the parents are best left to make these arrangements for themselves, as long as there are no Social Services concerns. Whilst both parties have the opportunity to set out in the divorce paperwork how they propose the children’s time should be divided, the judge’s priority will be to check that at least one of the two parents intends to continue looking after those children, and he or she will not resolve any issues about how time should be divided.
Parents may be able to agree on a new routine themselves, or with the help of a mediator. Every family finds a different pattern that works for them. This may be a complex arrangement of certain nights in certain weeks with each parent. It could be an alternate weekend with a mid week night with Mum and the rest of the time with Dad, or alternate weeks, week 1 Mum and week 2 Dad. Smart phones have helped separating parents, enabling them to sync diaries so they know whose turn it is on a particular weekend, or to rely on apps created for separated parents to help with the communication. Some parents rely on the photocopied year to view planner, with Mum’s days in one colour and Dad’s in another. Others even choose the option of “Hot Nesting”, where rather than children swapping houses to see their parents, it is the parents who take turns to move between properties.
Children’s lives are busy, and with all the after school events, and weekend parties to attend, a level of communication between separated parents is essential. Sometimes though, it is just not possible, in the midst of divorce or other family law proceedings, to agree practical arrangements. Parents can choose to make an application to court for a “residence order” or a “contact order”, asking a judge to set out in a court order who is primary carer of those children, and when those children need to be made available for contact with the other parent. The court appointed social worker (“CAFCASS”) will meet with both parents, budgets permitting, and the judge will make a binding decision in the best interests of those children.
So the answer to my question”Who decides where children live when parents separate?” is, “Parents, if they possibly can”.
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