Hi everyone! Hope you are all well and are enjoying your summers to the best of your ability given the difficulties of recent times. I firstly would like to thank you for taking the time to read this blog post I’ve written. It is written about several issues which are very close to my heart and I hope you enjoy it! I have chosen to discuss with you today is ‘The Suitcase Kid’ by Jaqueline Wilson. A book I read as a child myself and discusses in depth the issues surrounding custody disputes in family law.
Andy is the ten-year-old main character in the book and her parents have recently divorced. Her father has remarried, and her mother is living with her new partner and his children. Andy is unsure whether she should live with her mother or father and her social worker has suggested that she spends one week with her mum and every other week with her dad. Her parents are both arguing over who Andy would be better off living with, leaving Andy feeling like she doesn’t belong anywhere.
So, the issue surrounds exactly what Andy’s parents can do to ensure that she as stable and secure upbringing as possible.
Andy’s welfare is the most vital aspect in any decision regardless of the views of either of her parents and therefore the courts will look to something called the Welfare Checklist.
This is found in Section One of ‘The Children Act 1989’. It details seven key points which the court must look at before making any decisions regarding Andy.
- Andy’s wishes and feelings
- Her Physical, Emotional and educational requirements
- Potential effects on Andy if her circumstances change as a result of the court’s decision
- Her age, gender, life experiences and any other characteristics which may be relevant to making the decision.
- Whether Andy has suffered or is likely to suffer any harm
- Whether Andy’s parents/guardians are capable of addressing her needs
- Any authority or power available to the court in relation to the specific proceedings of Andy’s case.
These must all be considered before any decisions can be made by the courts.
Section 8 Orders
When all this has been considered Andy’s parents would then have to look at how they can best meet her needs and how this can be done most effectively. This can be especially difficult when there has been a breakdown in communication as seen in Andy’s case.
To discuss this we, must first look again to the Children Act 1989. This time however we look to Section 8 which details different courts orders (decisions) regarding different aspects of a child’s life, including who has parental responsibility and the ability to make key decisions regarding how that child is brought up after a separation.
Child Arrangement Order
The first of these which is most important to Andy is deciding who will now be responsible for looking after her.
If her parents cannot decide on a new arrangement which is fairly evident in Andy’s case, then as a final option her parents can go to court and ask for a Child Arrangement Order. In this case the courts will then decide how much contact Andy is to have with each of her parents.
Andy’s parents are allowed to apply for this because they are her parents but there are other options which are written in a list in section 8 which includes other people who are allowed to apply for this order. As a result of this order it will then be decided who Andy will primarily live with, when she will spend time with each of her parents and any other types of contact which may be allowed to take place e.g. phone calls or letters etc. As a result of this Andy’s life will feel more stable and her parents can no longer argue about who has responsibility over her.
Do Both of Andy’s Parents Always Have A ‘Legal Right’ To Have Contact with Her?
In the book, there is an incident where Andy misses the bus on her commute home from school which she does every day and ends up walking home in the rain. She gets ill as a result and her father is outraged that her mother let it happen. He takes Andy to his house and refuses to let her mother see her.
In Welsh Law Andy’s father would not legally be able to stop Andy’s mum from having access to her. The only time he would able to stop access would be if he believed that Andy’s welfare was being compromised, that this was not an isolated incident and that there was a clear and present threat to her safety. An example of this would be if her mother was abusing alcohol or drugs which is clearly not the case here. Andy’s father would have to produce evidence that her welfare was being compromised and that she would as a result be safer if she was brought up solely by him.
Andy walking home and subsequently getting sick was an accident and an isolated incident and as there are no ongoing issues in the book with regards to how Andy is being brought up by her mother, then her father has no right to prevent Andy from having contact with her.
Would Andy Have a Voice in Proceedings?
The other key issue is how Andy could get her voice heard in the proceedings.
Andy has a right to be listened to under section 12 of the UNCRC (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and therefore it would be hoped that her parents would put aside their own agendas during this separation and listen to their daughter’s opinions and views on what would make her the happiest.
However, if Andy’s case did eventually end up in court, she could rely on a CAFCASS officer to ensure her voice is heard. These are specialist social workers who will primarily advise the court on what outcome is in the best interests of the child. They will consider the child’s needs and wishes regarding the proceedings and be their voice when working towards an outcome.
Taking the case to court would always be the last resort in attempting to resolve the situation. Other avenues such as mediation between Andy’s parents would hopefully be used to resolve any issues before it ends up in court. Ultimately, it is Andy’s welfare which is the most important as discussed earlier and therefore this must always take first priority.
Do you relate in any way to the Andy’s story in this book and how would you feel in this situation? I hope this blog post will help you to understand your rights in such a situation a little bit more and that you found it interesting!
Much love Millie
I am Millie and have just graduated with a degree in Law and Politics before I start my training as a solicitor in September. I have a particular interest in children’s rights and family law which is what I wanted to discuss with you today.