CONTACT When relationships fall apart……Child Contact

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.




The feeling of being lost in a marriage, not knowing who you are, where you are going or who your partner has become, is one of isolation and overwhelming fear.

Whether it is “Brexit” or “War of the Roses” the dissolution of any marriage is never easy – it is hard, difficult, horrible and everything in between.

However the legal procedure in this area, in Northern Ireland, is straightforward.

It is the “human factor” that clouds it. This happens when parties to a marriage find it impossible to discuss why a breakdown has taken place and as to whether there is any hope of reconciliation. When this talk does not take place parties step away from the marriage with unrealistic expectations and hopes. I have found that when the parties sit down and have an open and frank conversation, as to why they can no longer remain married, that the most amicable divorces can be executed.

I always recommend that parties think about counselling before making the decision to part.

Once that decision has been made:

After one year of marriage either party may file for Divorce.

Each party to a divorce should be represented separately so that they can obtain independent advice. One solicitor cannot represent two clients in Divorce proceedings as there is a conflict of interest.

After an initial consultation a decision as to whether the divorce should be brought in the High Court or the County Court will be made. This will depend on the complexity of the separation and the matrimonial assets. Legal aid will be discussed with you at this stage and if appropriate an application will be made on your behalf.

When a decision as to funding is made a Divorce Petition will be drafted. This document will set out the grounds for your divorce. Once the Petition is ready it will be stamped by the Court and served on your partner who will complete a form confirming they have received the Petition and indicating to the Court whether they agree or not to the grounds cited in the Petition.

If they are agreeable to the Petition a Decree Nisi Hearing will be held. This is a hearing where you will attend Court to confirm that the grounds in your Petition are correct. If the Judge is happy that your marriage has irretrievably broken down they will grant you a Decree Nisi confirming that they believe you have grounds for Divorce.  

If your partner is not agreeable they will lodge a document outlining their reasons as to why they are objecting to your Petition. You will thereafter lodge a similar document and your Decree Nisi hearing will be listed. Both you and your partner will need to give evidence to the Judge.


However you must wait for six weeks before applying to the Court for your Decree Absolute – a document that completely dissolves your marriage.


This means you cannot remarry until the Decree Absolute is issued.


In Northern Ireland there are five grounds for divorce:

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour
  2. Adultery
  3. Two Years Separation with Consent
  4. Dessertion
  5. Five Years Separation.

If a final Agreement as to your joint finances has not been entered in too then Court proceedings will have to be issued to resolve them. This is called Ancillary Relief Proceedings.

I always tell my clients that matrimonial law is a different type of law to conveyancing or litigation. It is an area of law that is client led. Our job is to listen to what you are saying, or more importantly to what you are not saying, and to seek a resolution that puts both parties in a position where they can start again.

For empathetic clear professional advices when you feel adrift in your relationship call us on 02838327436.

Patrick Park Solicitors

In the heart of Lurgan


Divorce and Separation

Divorce and Separation

Marriage Breakdowns

When Christmas isn’t Bright and isn’t Jolly!!!

Marriage Breakdowns

I have always loved Christmas. I love the colours, the scents and the sounds but I have always hated the stress Christmas brings.

Christmas can be an awful time of the year for people who are struggling in a relationship that is not meeting their emotional needs. More than at any other time in the year couples will in January, after the Christmas period, seek advices in relation to divorce and separation.

I am often asked why is there such a spike in advices sought in this field at Christmas and the New Year.

My own view is that, often if not daily, we ignore mundane issues and arguments as we are too busy working, attending to our homes or children. When work stops and we are placed in close confinement with our partner these issues that were not dealt with explode into larger arguments.

With the market as it is, incomes frozen, inflation rising – many of us strive to keep up with our neighbors and try to give presents we just simply cannot afford. Broke, miserable and incarcerated with a partner that does not understand these issues, and of course quite often faced with in-laws, listening to Slade on a loop – tensions invariably break.

Then add to the mix – additional social events.

These events have financial and emotional implications and those underlying issues that went unchecked for the previous year can suddenly become the alcohol fueled arguments of nightmares.

Quite simply for some in a relationship that is not working and has not been working for some time – Christmas is a horrible time. For others in a relationship where there is domestic violence Christmas can be intolerable and dangerous.

At Patrick Park Solicitors we have been assisting couples for over two decades in seeking amicable resolutions when these issues become too much. We always ask our clients to consider counselling and mediation first to make sure that they wish to dissolve their marriage and that there is no hope of reconciliation.

In this area our work is very much client led.

We advise our clients and instruct them on the best possible way forward so that a partnership that was once founded on love and friendship is dissolved with dignity and respect.

If you are a victim of domestic violence within a marriage or within a family setting- once you are ready we can advise you not only as to your legal rights for a Non-Molestation Order but also get you in contact with the Services that you will need to build your life over again.

Nothing is unfixable and with the close of one year a new chapter begins in the next.

For friendly, practical, specialised advice please call Emma Murphy at Patrick Park Solicitors on 02838327436.

Or email

Patrick Park Solicitors in the heart of Lurgan.