When relationships end both parents can be hurt, angry and lost.

When this happens, both parties having invested so much into a relationship, may either over compensate with their children or find it difficult to identify their needs. Many children sense the hurt that one or both parents are experiencing and attempt to take a parent role by not allowing themselves to show how upset they truly are. Some parents fear the other one either rightly or wrongly as a threat to their children as a result of their behaviour towards them and try to end Contact with the other parent.

For amicable Child Contact, after a breakdown in a relationship, both parents and extended family need to be on the same page. If one parent’s understanding of the reasons for the breakdown of the relationship is different from the other then establishing a Contact arrangement will need assistance.

In Northern Ireland the Welfare of a Child is Paramount.

In situations where Contact arrangements simply cannot be agreed it is our policy to advise our clients to firstly consider Mediation to resolve Contact matters in order to seek an amicable resolution before engaging in Court proceedings. This can be done via numerous agencies outside the Court Arena: Family Mediation NI, family, friends or someone who has the parties’ mutual respect and trust. It is important that these people are trained and are independent before engaging with same.

In some cases, particularly where there has been significant domestic violence, Mediation is simply not suitable. We then would seek to negotiate a Contact Arrangement with the other parent’s solicitor if there is no risk posed to the children.

If that negotiation breaks down then an application to the Family Court should be made to ensure that the child has the foundations and structure in place to have a continuing relationship with the Non-Resident Parent.

The Court who will hear the application will normally be the court in the area where the children live. This is normally the Family Proceedings Court.

For extremely complex Contact proceedings for example involving different jurisdictions the application will be made either to the Family Care Centre where the child lives or alternatively the High Court in Belfast.

Currently, whilst the legal budget is being destroyed by the Government, legal aid is available for Contact Proceedings.  In order to qualify for legal aid there is a strict financial assessment criteria. You will be asked to bring proof of your income to be assessed for same.  If you do not qualify your legal representative will explain the costs of the application before lodging the latter in Court.

Contact proceedings are governed in Northern Ireland mainly by The Children (NI) Order (1995). This Order looks at the Child’s Welfare globally and the consequences of the parents’ applications in respect of same.  The Court may ask the Court appointed Social Worker (CCO), assigned to the Court, to assist them in assessing the welfare of the subject child including ascertaining the latter’s wishes and feelings in relation to Contact if appropriate.

Most cases will be concluded once the CCO has made their recommendation, or after a short interim period of review, but if a party does not agree with the CCO’s recommendation the Court will list the case for hearing.

If agreement can be reached at this stage or if an Order can be made the Court has a number options: it can make a Contact Order, an Order of No Order depending on the attitudes of the Parties, refer the matter to a Higher Court or take action if there is a significant risk to the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

The Contact Order will be reflective of the childrens’ ages , wishes and feelings and needs. This may look at indirect contact by way of phone, letter, card, electronical communication etc along with direct Contact generally. The Court will listen and assess all potential risk to the Child’s Welfare.

The Court’s duty is towards the child and ensuring that the Contact arrangements arrived at are the best possible outcome.

This can very often leave one parent feeling that their voice was not heard. The Family Court in Northern Ireland can be daunting because the proceedings are in relation to the most important people in your life – your children.  A parent’s job is to protect – to seek the very best for their children – and when that role is taken from you and given to the Court it leaves the parent feeling lost.

It is my firm belief as a parent and a professional that no parent should enter into Family Proceedings lightly and certainly not without seeking Mediation or Legal Advices.

It is also vitally important that the solicitor you choose is one that you trust. You need to be able to speak to your solicitors about personal family matters bluntly and without hesitation.

To consider mediation please call Family Mediation NI on 02890243265.

For friendly experienced legal advice call Patrick Solicitors Lurgan on Telephone Number 02838327436.

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