Often as lawyers we see a number of clients who come to us with concerns about their children’s lifestyle and living arrangements with the parent with whom they live. Often the non-resident parent (who invariably shares responsibility) feels that they are not consulted about issues such as health, schooling and holidays abroad and – particularly relevant at this time of year – arrangements for Christmas. Unfortunately, all too often what we see is parents coming to see us in the hope that we can assist with such issues, often at short notice and on an emergency basis. Whilst we are often able to assist with little or no notice, the reality is that it is not always easy to assess a Court listing so swiftly. 

Regardless of who the child/children lives with, all those who share parental responsibility are entitled to be consulted in respect of issues such as health, schooling and holidays abroad. Even in circumstances where one parent has a child arrangement (lives with) order, that does not alter the equal division of parental responsibility or provide them with enhanced parental responsibility or rights. Nevertheless, it is often the case that the parent with whom the child lives with assumes that they can unilaterally make decisions about significant issues affecting that child.  

There will of course be incidents, particularly relating to health and medical treatment, when decisions need to be made swiftly and without delay. Whilst the party should endeavour to consult with all those who have parental responsibility for that child, it is not always practical or possible. 

However, it is quite often the case that significant issues such as which school the child should attend, whether or not the child should go abroad on holiday and where the child should spend Christmas or New Year, requires significantly more time for negotiations to take place and decisions to be made. If in the first instance, it is not possible to agree matters by negotiation or mediation, then inevitably an application has to be made to the court for judicial determination. Whilst emergency applications can be made at very short notice, it is almost always in the best interest of the child for such applications to be made at the earliest opportunity, if necessary. It is worth also keeping in mind that what a parent may consider to be ‘urgent’ is not always the same as the Court’s interpretation, hence the need for proper and pre-planning. 

The parties should be mindful also that in the case of EG-JG [2013] EW Misc 21 (CC) HHJ Million was critical of the father who had spent a considerable amount of money on contentious litigation when, in the Judge’s view, he had made a minimal contribution towards maintenance of the parties children. The judge in that case considered that it was a “grossly disproportionate misdirection of the father’s available financial resources”. It is always better, in the first instance, if matters can be agreed between the parties, with the focus being on the best interests of the children and not the best or most convenient interests of the parents and in almost all circumstances proper preparation that prevents poor planning!

At Stephen Scown we are able to provide advice in relation to all issues relating to children and family law. If you require advice in this regard please contact us on 01392 210700 or email solicitors@stephens-scown.co.uk.