Solicitor Services

Arrangements for Children

In my experience the most sensitive part of a family separating is agreeing the arrangements for the children. I always encourage, that where possible, parents should try and agree arrangements for their children directly between them. However, sadly there are occasions when this is simply not possible. Emotions on both sides run high, each parent has different ideas of what arrangements would best support their children and often advice is being provided on both sides by third parties such as friends and family which can complicate matters further, all of which often leads to a complete breakdown in communication between the parties.
But what happens when you add a complex condition like Autism in to the situation? How should the parents address separation with the children? What impact will a change in routine have on the children? How should arrangements for our Autism siblings be treated? Should this even be a consideration? What supporting evidence will be required? And will the family courts even recognise the importance of an Autism diagnosis and the impact this has on any siblings when addressing the children’s arrangements? These are just some of the questions which I am often tasked with answering.
It is therefore crucial that your Legal Representative has an in depth understanding of this unique condition and how it impacts on the family including the wider family. However, not every Solicitor possesses this in depth knowledge and crucially understanding of such a complex condition and so what happens when the importance of an Autism diagnosis is completely overlooked and its impact on the family is grossly underestimated.
Here are just some examples of where cases could go wrong:
A recommendation is given to the court for a complete change of the children’s living arrangements following a lack of understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder by those making the recommendations.

Take here, a scenario whereby the court orders a report to be prepared on what level of contact the children (one of whom has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder) should have with the parent with whom they do not live. However, in consequence of the author of the report having little understanding of Autism, they misconstrue comments made by the child who is Autistic during the course of their enquiries which leads the author to question whether the children should instead live with the non-resident parent, even though this was not the basis of the original application.

This outcome would be catastrophic for the family.

In this scenario, it is questionable whether the child with an Autism diagnosis should have spoken with the author of the report in the first instance. However, at the very least the author of the report should have been identified based upon their experience, knowledge and understanding of this unique condition.

A misunderstanding of what an Education, Health and Care plan is and its relevance in a disputed Court application.

During the course of a meeting a Legal Representative, one of whom does not have a comprehensive understating of Autism,  asks whether the child diagnosed with Autism has an Education, Health and Care plan [EHCP]. Let’s assume here, that the child has been granted an EHCP. The Legal Representative asks to see a copy. However, the legal representative places too much emphasis on the EHCP believing that this document holds the key to all information about the child and in consequence does not question the parent beyond what is in the EHCP.

Parents of children who have been granted an EHCP will know that whilst it can be a comprehensive document identifying the needs of their child it is by no means the only document which we have filed away and in fact the EHCP forms only one small piece of a much bigger jigsaw. It is therefore important that your legal representative has a full understanding of the nature of all of the various documents which relate to the child concerned and the importance of each document.

In consequence of this somewhat simplified approach vital evidence about the child’s diagnosis and crucially the child’s needs are missed, evidence which would have made a huge difference to the result in the case.

When a Meltdown is misinterpreted as meaning a temper tantrum

This may seem only a small point to some, but how often are meltdowns seen as nothing more than a temper tantrum?

Tasks which may be seen as simple and straightforward to most, such as getting out of bed in a morning or even getting dressed, sitting down at the table for a family meal or even taking a used plate into the kitchen can be filled with angst, upset and sensory processing overload otherwise described as a ‘meltdown’. 

For those of us who have experienced meltdowns, we know only too well that there is a big difference between a child who is having a temper tantrum and an Autistic child who is experiencing a meltdown or sensory processing overload.

A meltdown can last many hours. They often leave parents feeling emotionally drained, tired and sad by the sheer destruction which these meltdowns often leave behind and not to mention the deep routed sadness and pain we feel watching our precious children struggle whilst acknowledging that we are powerless to the way in which these sensory overloads can take over and leave our children feeling physically and emotionally drained.

The impact a meltdown has on the child concerned must never be underestimated. However, it is also important to understand the impact a meltdown has on the child’s sibling(s).

Meltdowns effect everyone differently and it is important that the legal representative in your case fully understands the child’s meltdown triggers, the nature of each meltdown, what happens to the child concerned both before, during and after a meltdown, what strategies must be followed to support the child both before, during and after a meltdown and what support should be given to any sibling throughout this difficult time. This list is by no means exhaustive as we know only too well the myriad of variables present during these difficult and challenging times.

However, legal representatives must know what questions to ask their client’s if they are to stand any chance of being able to properly advocate their client’s case. Failure to do so could have detrimental consequences for the family. 

The above scenarios are in no way exhaustive but are there to provide examples of what can go wrong when a family’s needs are not properly understood.

I am passionate about raising Autism awareness and ensuring that each family’s unique needs are firmly understood and correctly explained as well as offering a different level of support which manifests itself from a place of personal experience. 

I am passionate about providing clear and concise legal advice tailored entirely to your individual circumstances.

I will take time to understand your objectives, what is important to you and why. Even at the very onset of your case you will be provided with advice on all options available to you, including an estimate of how long your case is likely to take to finalise as well as an estimate of costs.

It is always sensible to seek professional advice, even if your separation is ‘amicable and straight forward’ as armed with the correct information and advice enables you to make informed decisions about your separation.

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Contact me for a 15 minutes free consultation to discuss your situation and to explore how I am able to both advise and support you at this time.

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