Q: I am struggling to reach an agreement with my ex-wife about seeing my son. I am in receipt of income support and wondered what my options would be?
A: You will need to consult a family law specialist to ascertain the correct way forward. Initially, they will write to your ex-wife to see if your contact with your son can be agreed via correspondence. If this is not possible your lawyer will refer your case for Mediation. With larger law firms like GHP Legal, there may an in-house family mediator, otherwise your solicitor can refer you to one. The purpose of Mediation will be for you and your ex-wife to reach a mutual, acceptable, negotiated agreement with the help of the family mediator. As attending mediation is voluntary, if your ex-wife refuses to attend such an appointment, or mediation breaks down, the next step would be to apply to the Court for a Contact Order.
A Contact Order is an Order made by the Court, setting out the arrangements for when you and your son will see each other. Court proceedings are a lengthy process and are usually used as a last resort in cases involving children as it is preferable if parents can reach an agreement amicably.
Before instructing your lawyer to make an application to the Court you would need to secure a public funding certificate (more commonly known as legal aid) from the Legal Services Commission, or alternatively provide your lawyer with money on account of costs. From April 1st 2013 changes to the criteria for obtaining a public funding certificate will, however, leave many parents outside the scope of obtaining a public funding certificate unless certain, strict, conditions set down by the Legal Services Commission can be met. If you are experiencing problems seeing your son on a regular basis you should obtain advice from a specialist family lawyer as soon as possible.