When parental separation casts a long shadow

It is well known that children can get caught up in their parents’ separation and sadly again and again there are cases in which children are left feeling that they have to pick a side.

Whilst there are family situations where abusive behaviour plays a role in the breakdown of a relationship and it is appropriate for limits and restrictions to be put in place in connection with contact for a child’s safety, there are many other circumstances (indeed the majority of cases) where there is absolutely no reason on separation why the parents should not be able to agree an arrangement which ensures that they both play a full role in the children’s lives.  Unfortunately the importance of a child’s relationship with the other parent is not always recognised, and many children still end up feeling caught in the middle when arrangements cannot be agreed amicably.

In some cases the way the parents handle their separation results in the child losing the chance of a relationship with one of them and sometimes a relationship with wider family members too.  It is not uncommon to encounter adult children who are aligned with one parent as a result of their parents’ separation when they were a child, and their relationship with the other parent has never been repaired.  This can also have an even more far-reaching impact with subsequent grandchildren prevented from having a relationship with a grandparent or aunt or uncle.  This detrimental impact upon the children could be avoided if both parents take a careful and considered approach to the separation from the start and ensure they are putting the children’s best interests at the forefront of their minds.

Most of the time when parents separate they have the best understanding of what meets their child’s needs and best interests.  If they can’t agree what that looks like and choose to involve the Family Court to make the decisions for them, this means a third party (a Judge or Magistrates) will be the ultimate decision maker and the risk is that in that situation all concerned may end up not liking the outcome, parents and child included.

So, how can you have a better parental separation?

The Family Justice Young People’s Board has a lot of helpful information and some top tips from a child’s perspective, for parents to think about, not least of which include these :-

  • Remember I have the right to see both of my parents as long as it is safe for me.
  • I can have a relationship with the partner of my other parent without this changing my love for you.
  • Try to have good communication with my other parent because it will help me. Speak to them nicely.
  • Keep my other parent updated about my needs and what is happening for me. I might need their help too.
  • Don’t say bad things about my other parent, especially if I can hear. Remember I can often overhear your conversations or see your social media comments.
  • Remember it is ok for me to love and have a relationship with my other parent.
  • Don’t make me feel guilty about spending time with my other parent.

These are the voices of the young people who have been through the Family Court system at some point in their lives.

The full guidance available can be found here:- https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/children-and-young-people/family-justice-young-peoples-board/fjypb-top-tips)

So, talk to each other about the children.  Even if you don’t agree with one another try and listen as well as putting forward your views.  There is often a compromise just around the corner.

If you can’t talk without someone to referee is there someone you trust as a go-between just while things are hard?  Or would you like someone more neutral to help the conversation along, like a family mediator perhaps?

Do you want someone else to make the decision if you cannot find a compromise but don’t want to have to go to court?  In those circumstances you may wish to consider engaging an arbitrator i.e an appropriate paid professional to make the decision which you and the other parent would agree to be bound by.

There are a lot of different options that don’t require the Court to be involved, but if it becomes necessary then be reassured that the welfare of a child is always the Family Court’s first consideration.

In some areas of the country there are changes already in place which will be rolled out to more areas soon which place a significantly greater emphasis on out of court approaches to reaching an agreement as to arrangements for children.  More information about these changes can be found here:- (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/childrens-wellbeing-at-the-heart-of-family-court-reforms)

If you are facing a separation and struggling to agree arrangements for the care of your children and require advice, please do not hesitate to contact our Family Law team at Geldards.

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