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Child Arrangements – Preparing for Summer July 10, 2015
By Paradigm Family Law

Packing your Case.
The number of cases involving the courts and child arrangements is on the rise. The National Audit office recently published statistics showing a 22% increase in cases involving children contact arrangements, and a 30% increase in cases where neither party had legal representation. We are approaching the summer school holidays for many families, and this can be a flash point between those couples who live apart and want to spend time during the holidays with their children.

Mediation is now firmly on the radar, and to be encouraged. As an alternative to court action, it can be a very effective way of resolving issues between parents in particular where children are concerned. Indeed the court process as it is now effectively insists that at least one party has been to see a mediator to find out about the options available for resolving a dispute without resorting to an application to court – including mediation, arbitration and negotiation. Exhausted But, what if the parties have exhausted or are exhausted by those options and have reached the end of any meaningful discussions – what next? If court seems like the only way to break an impasse what is involved and how do you present your case to the court in the best light possible? The court is primarily concerned with the welfare of the child or children involved. The perspective is that of the child not the rights or perceived entitlements of each parent. But how do you persuade the court that your arrangements are more appropriate than any others? The law is found in the Children Act 1989, and deals now with ‘Child Arrangement Orders’ – what used to be known as Residence and Contact, and even before then as Custody and Access orders. Section 1 Children Act 1989 states that the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration. The focus is therefore on the child and why a particular arrangement is better for the child, rather than the parent. Welfare Checklist The court considers the circumstances of the case with reference to the ‘welfare checklist’, a list of factors that the court must have particular regard in making decisions concerning children.

The factors are set out at Section 1(3) as follows: (a) The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in light of their age and understanding); (b) The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs; (c) The likely effect on the child of the change in circumstances; (d) The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant; (e) Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; (f) How capable end of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant is of meeting his needs; (g) The range of owners open to the court under the Children Act 1989. It is in light of these factors that any application concerning a child must be approached by all concerned. Each party should therefore prepare their case with these factors in mind. It follows that the parties should concentrate on producing evidence to support those aspects, if they want the court to take their arguments into consideration. Only then can the court be sure to be able to review the most relevant features of the case. Where do I start? There are 3 principle things to get right: What Order do you want the court to make? How is that in the best interests of the child? What is at fault in the other party’s proposals? Not all the welfare checklist factors can or will necessarily apply. But it is helpful to use it to focus on the ones that are going to be persuasive. Phrases such as ‘in the child’s best interest’ or ‘with the child’s welfare at heart’ are used frequently, but it is important to refer to the welfare checklist and frame your arguments according to the factors that the court will consider. Emotions can run high, but by focussing on the checklist, you can be sure that the court will listen to your arguments. Here Comes the Summer Hopefully you will be able to agree what arrangements will be for the forthcoming summer break, and have those arrangements settled well in advance. If not, now is the time to be thinking about it or else you run the risk that the court will not be able to deal with matters in time for the holidays. If you think you might need some help or guidance with contact arrangements please do not hesitate to get in touch with Paradigm Family Law sooner rather than later. Call us on 0845 6020422 or email
James and Frank are here to help.
Children Traumatised by Abduction.

Traumatic for Children

Parentally-abducted children are traumatized emotionally and psychologically, especially if they are brainwashed by the abducting parent to believe that the other parent no longer loves them or has died. Abducted children are truly innocent victims of their parents’ decisions and actions. Their relationships with other family members, perhaps even siblings and grandparents, are terminated, and their sense of family, belonging, and identity is compromised, if not lost entirely in the process.

What typically starts as a custody dispute balloons into a much larger tragedy with long-term and widespread impacts. Perhaps most tragic are the higher risk factors that abducted children face for severe psychological conditions such as reactive attachment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder in both the short and long terms.Parental abduction may seem a last resort and only remaining alternative to a parent fearful of an abusive situation involving the other parent, an international move instigated by the other parent, or even an unfavorable custody dispute playing out in the courts. Ultimately, working within the family court system to resolve custody matters within the confines of the law is preferable for preserving the well-being of all involved.

Four Children Abducted by Mother
The High Court has, this week, taken the unusual step of identifying 4 children caught up in an international custody dispute between their parents, after they were abducted by their mother in the middle of the night to avoid orders providing for them to be removed from the mother’s care and returned to their father in Spain. The case has a long history, and this is reported to be the third time the mother has abducted the 4 children. An urgent search is now underway to locate the children, which it is hoped will be assisted by the decision to release the identities of the children. The children have been living with their Spanish father since the parents separated a number of years ago. It is reported that they were abducted and brought to England by the Mother in 2009, but later returned. They were then abducted again earlier this year, following which urgent court proceedings were issued by the father here in England for their immediate return, under the special international rules concerning child abduction. Orders were then made in favour of the Father, requiring the children to be returned to Spain by no later than midnight last Friday. The mother indicated she was unwilling to accept the decision and appealed, but was unsuccessful. Given the history, and the mother’s refusal to accept the decision of the court, it was felt there was the risk that she would again abscond with the children before the Return Order could be implemented and the court therefore took the decision to order that the children be immediately removed from the mother’s care and placed with the Local Authority until such time as they could be put on a flight home, an order made only in exceptional circumstances. Unfortunately, in the short time it took for that order to be implemented, the mother had vanished from her home in Wales with the children, for whom there are now safety concerns. The case highlights a number of issues which arise in cases of parental child abduction. The first is that there are often warning signs that an abduction is likely to take place which experienced practitioners can identify, along with the facts that once these warning signs are exhibited, time is very much of the essence in order to minimise the risk of the abduction taking place. The High Court has extensive powers which it can use in abduction cases, and will do so if required to protect the welfare of children who have been abducted or are at risk of abduction. Orders can include requiring mobile telephone and welfare agencies to disclose information about the parent’s accounts and requiring other members of their family to come to court and give evidence about what they know of the abductors plans or whereabouts. There are also serious penalties for parents who breach orders regarding the return of children, which can include prison sentences. Once the children are found, the courts both here and in Spain will be anxious to ensure that this does not happen again and again, the court has extensive powers to put measures in place to protect the children. This can include withholding their whereabouts from the abductor, confiscating the parent’s travel documents, electronic tagging and insisting that any future contact take place only in a secure, supervised setting. Anyone involved in the field of child abduction knows that it can cause lasting damage to a child, and whilst parents may think they are acting in the children’s best interests, there can be lasting negative consequences for the whole family.

Cara Nuttall

Parental Child Kidnapping
Parental child abduction features in various headlines today, demonstrating the wide range of circumstances in which it can take place. Many people will have seen the reports of the urgent search for 7 year old Neon Roberts, after his mother abducted him from home to a town some 160 miles away, in order to avoid him being given urgent medical treatment, with which she does not agree. It is reported that Neon’s parents have been involved in a legal battle in recent days as to whether he should receive life-saving cancer treatment. Ms Roberts practices alternative therapies and did not agree to Neon receiving conventional treatment. The seriousness of Neon’s condition, prompted the High Court to take the unusual step of releasing Neon’s details, in the hope he could be found in time for treatment to begin. It is reported that a further hearing is scheduled to take place tomorrow at which the decision will be made as to whether or not Neon should receive radiotherapy. As against the unusual circumstances of Neon’s case, are reports of a more traditional example of parental abduction featuring 5 year old Erin Chafin. Erin father was in the US Army when he married her Scottish mother. When they divorced, there was an argument between them as to whether Erin was resident in Scotland, or in the US, with Erin’s mother alleging that her father had wrongly retained her in the US, rather than allowing her to return to Scotland, amounting to child abduction. The American court agreed, and made orders which permitted Erin to return to Scotland. Erin’s father then made further applications in the US courts seeking orders regarding custody and contact, but was told that such matters could only be dealt with by the courts in Scotland. He seeks to override that decision in order to allow the American courts to retain jurisdiction over Erin’s future. A decision of the US Supreme Court is expected early next year. The two cases highlight the ways in which parental abduction can occur, whether internally in the UK, or internationally and how whilst it is often international families who are involved, this is not always the case. The cases also highlight the wide ranging powers the courts have in such situations, and the importance of obtaining urgent legal advice.

Cara Nuttall