What happens to children when military parents divorce?

The emotional upheaval for all parties in a divorce and separation are significant.  The break-up of the family unit is always going to be a difficult issue to deal with, and even more so with young children involved who might not understand why the parents cannot live together. This is a particularly poignant issue for military families where overseas deployments can make it even more uncertain for the children involved.

This article aims to look at some of the practical aspects that need to be considered in a breakup where one or other of the parents is in the UK military.  We consider the more difficult breakdown where there are issues that might need to be resolved through litigation, although, of course, dealing with matters by consent is a far better prospect and leads to less overall damage to the whole family’s well-being.

Topics to be answered in this article

UK Law – Putting the children first

The paramount concern in the UK system is putting the children first.  The law is designed to ensure that they are at the centre of any court decision about them, and parents should always bear this in mind.  Most times, an amicable agreement will work between parents and sorting out the times that the children spend with each side of the family is relatively easy to sort out.  This is not often the case when one parent lives in one location, and the other is posted or assigned elsewhere around the UK or even abroad. Children are highly likely to be provided a relationship with both parents, which of course requires additional thought and planning where one, or both parents, are in the military (see more below). The age, maturity and needs of the children will also be considered in terms of ensuring they are provided with a caring, supportive and stable environment that suits them best. 

Accommodation for the children

Sometimes this is obvious, and the children will live with the parent who is least likely to move on little notice.  Times are changing, and it is often the case that a service person can ask for a surplus quarter for the purposes of having the children visit, or for the children to spend significant times with the non-resident parent.  Your first port of call should be the welfare organisation that supports your unit.  There are often opportunities for personnel to book a welfare flat or house that is specifically provided for the purposes of allowing contact visits with children.  These are often heavily used, and there will need to be a degree of flexibility with the other parent over times when the flat isn’t available.  Clearly, deployments or exercises will impact on when the children spend time with the military parent.  Often, some of that lost time can be catered for on return from operations or exercises.

Increasingly, the services are adapting to the challenges that relationship breakdowns bring, and you should keep yourself up to date in respect of changes to service terms and conditions and housing policy.  Your unit admin office is always a good place to start.

Parenting plans

parenting plan may need to be a priority for parents who are separating. It gives you the flexibility to have open and honest discussions before getting courts involved. You must put the children first and the document will become a valuable reference to go back to, as well as ensuring all parties are aware of what is required of them.

Mediation and support

Sadly, the fact is that some parents cannot agree on what the arrangements for the children should be and this requires either mediation to reach an agreement, or mediation as a requirement prior to starting legal action in court. Courts will want to see that this has taken place.

Going to court to agree about the children

Remember that the court has the children’s best interests at its core, not the best interests of one or other of the parents.  Often, it is inflexibility and rigidity of one parent’s position that causes the other to take court action.  Be aware however that court orders for contact can of themselves be quite rigid in their application, and lend themselves to routine rather than the flexibility required around service lifestyles.  Expert legal advice and an understanding by the practitioner of the situation that service personnel find themselves in are however valuable to assist the courts to come to an arrangement that better suits the absent parent.

How does the amount of time a child spends with a parent affect Child Maintenance payments?

The child maintenance paid is based upon the average number of nights in a week that the parent with whom the children does not live has them overnight.  The second factor to bear in mind is your level of income.  Using these two factors, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) calculates a level of maintenance that the absent parent should pay to the other.

It is open to parents to agree a figure between themselves.  It is also open to either parent to ask the CMS to assess what should be paid, and to collect the payments from one parent to be paid to the other.

It can often be difficult to stick to a routine of however many nights a week as duties, exercises, operational deployments and sheer distance from where the children might live, may make it difficult for a few years of your career.  These factors can often make it difficult to assess what CMS payments should be made.

How can Goughs help?

We have years of experience of dealing with legal military family matters and we have a deep understanding of the pressures that service personnel work under.  This unique understanding helps us to help you, and Goughs can state your case far more effectively with real insight into how your service affects your circumstances. 

Call Mark Hood, family Solicitor with a 20+ military career under his belt, on +44 1225 781 925, for advice tailored to you and your family. 

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Author Bio

Georgina Catlin

I have been practicing Family Law since 2016, prior to qualifying as a Solicitor in 2018. Going through a separation can be one of the worst experiences in someone’s life and I know separation can be a very daunting prospect. I feel extremely passionate and committed to ensuring that the process is made as straightforward as possible for my clients, by delivering firm and clear advice, whilst trying to achieve a swift and fair settlement.

Over the years, I have developed a strong ability to empathise with my clients and pride myself of being warm and approachable to all. Positive mental health is really important to me and I will always encourage clients to seek additional support if required.

Check out some of my recent videos, with top tips, here:

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