Ian Walker

Ian Walker: director/solicitor/mediator/arbitrator/collaborative family lawyer. Member of Law Society Children Panel

Child law

On our website have divided our pages on children law into two areas – Child Law and Child Law Involving Social Services.

This is the Child Law Section – it is what we lawyers would call Private Law Children. Children Law Involving Social Services is known to us as Public Law Children. Public law children cases are cases where the state (in the form of the local authority/social services) are seeking to intervene in a family. That can include court proceedings, but also the involvement before court proceedings commence.

Private Law Children is primarily about the disagreements and laws about children where social services are not directly involved.

The types of cases that we are talking about include:

Child Arrangements: (Residence and contact – or to use all the terminology access and custody), in other words – where children should live, how they should spend time between households and the circumstances in which they should see other important people in their lives (including grandparents and siblings who may not live with the family).

Parental Responsibility and Paternity: confirming who are a child’s parents, the legal rights and responsibilities that each parent has in respect of a child, step-parents and other carers gaining legal rights and responsibilities to enable them to deal with the legal aspects of a child’s upbringing (for example being able to interact with schools or give medical consent)

Specific Issues: these include disputes between parents (and others with parental responsibility) concerning things like; choosing/moving schools, medical treatment (including vaccinations), name changes, taking children out of school and/or overseas for holidays. Where a parent has not returned a child following contact (the arrangements may be based on an agreement rather than a court order).

Surrogacy: including disagreements between the parents and/or the surrogates.

Adoption: including step-parent adoption.

Relocation: one parent wants to move a significant distance within the UK or overseas – often against the wishes of the other parents.

Prohibited Steps; these are orders which might prevent a parent from taking steps with a child. For example an order not approach/make contact with a child. Or an order which requires a parent not to allow a third party to come into contact with a child.

Enforcement of Orders, where one parent had breached a court order.

Financial Arrangements for Children outside of Divorce: the way in which the Child Maintenance Service (previously the Child Support Agency) was set up was that it was specifically to exclude the involvement of lawyers. The types of financial case for children that we deal with are under what is known as Schedule One of the Children Act. These are cases where an unmarried couple have separated and one parent is seeking a financial settlement from the other parent which is to provide a home for the child.

Parenting plans: not all parents are acrimonious when they separate – but it can still be helpful to agree a parenting plan – which is a comprehensive agreement between the parents as to how they are going to parent their child and how they will endeavour to resolve disagreements when they arise. Preparing these types of agreement is well suited for mediation – but they can also be prepared and agreed with the assistance of solicitors (we are both a law firm and a mediation service – so we can help either way). It is normally best to settle these matters when a couple is getting on reasonably well. It is always best to anticipate and resolve problems before they actually arise!

But as you will see private law children cases cover a wide range of potential disagreements between parents/important people in children’s lives – and in compiling the above list there will be types of disagreements the we have not mentioned.

Kris Seed: senior associate chartered legal executive and head of our private law children team

Our Child Law Team

Most of our lawyers are well versed in child law. For some of our legal team – their child law expertise is integral to their expertise in divorce and separation cases. Essentially these members of our team are experts in the laws relating to relationship breakdown and the consequences of those breakdowns.

Others of our team are more pure child law experts – and their child law expertise is integral to their expertise in complex cases involving social services. Public law Children is very rights-based because when the state interferes in family life – it should only do so when absolutely necessary – and the intervention should be as minimal as possible – and (often vulnerable parents) needs to be afforded a fair hearing. Expert evidence is often required to assist in understanding what is in the best interests of and often vulnerable child.

Some of our team are also Mediators or Practice Collaborative Family Law. This means that they are experts in negotiation – in the case of mediation from a neutral perspective, in the case of collaborative law from representing a client in carefully managed negotiation meetings.

We want to be able to draw from the considerable experience and expertise within our team to match the best lawyer/mediator in our team to the client and to the case.

Most law firms will have a divorce/relationships team and (if they still offer legal aid – which many do not) a public law children team. Those firms who do not have a public law children team will not have the breadth of experience concerning children law that a strong public law children team will bring to a practice.

We have organised ourselves such that we have a specific Child Law Team (Private Law). This is headed by Kris Seed who is a very experienced Chartered Legal Executive. As head of our Child Law Team Kris is part of our overall management team.

This means that when enquiries are received, (and when parents fall out badly – parents inevitably, and perfectly reasonably want advice quickly) that we are able to match the client and the case to the person within our overall team who has the best skills/experience/expertise for that type of case. (Subject to availability).

Because of the strength in depth within our team – we are able to share our experience and expertise with each other. Every case is different, and the law evolves, but there are seldom cases where one of us has not had a similar case in the past.

David Howell-Richardson

David Howell-Richardson: child law specialist consultant solicitor

Strength in depth

for public law children cases – the gold standard – measure of excellence – is membership of the Law Society Child Law Accreditation Scheme – formerly known as the Law Society Children Panel. Within our team, we have several current members of the Law Society Child Law Accreditation Scheme and we also have several former members of the Child Law Accreditation Scheme.

We have tried to write the site so that we don’t need to update pages any more than we absolutely have to – so always check our team page to see who our children panel members are. But overall we have more than a hundred years of children panel expertise in our office. This means that there really is very law little relating to children – that one of us hasn’t dealt with something similar in the past.

Sandy Powell: associate Solicitor member of Law Society Children Panel

Dispute Resolution

Where parents are in dispute – going to court is often necessary – but can be very damaging.

Our team is committed to the principles of Resolution. Ian Walker is the long-standing chair of Devon region of Resolution and Bridget Garrood is a former chair of Devon region of Resolution. Lauren Preedy is chair of Somerset region of Resolution. Essentially Resolution is about conducting legal practice/dispute resolution practice in a principled way where the needs of a child are never forgotten in the dispute. (Ultimately children want to have as happy a childhood as possible and this involves safety and certainty and the adults in their lives behaving in a sensible and child focused way).

Kim Stradling: consultant solicitor and member of Law Society Children Panel -Leading Child Law Expert

We are committed to all forms of dispute resolution. Ultimately disagreements concerning the arrangements for children need to be resolved quickly and as painlessly as possible – with sensible child focused solutions. Depending upon the case – some dispute resolution options will work better in an individual situation than another. We have expertise in all forms of family dispute resolution and we will advise clients as to what we think is the best route. (Remember that a preferred option may not be possible if the other parent/party will not engage).

If you need some assistance – we are ready to help

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