Separation and divorce can be a very painful and confusing time for parents. How will the children be cared for and by whom? Who will the children live with and how often can the other parent spend time with the children? What happens if one parent does not facilitate and foster the relationship between the children and the other parent?
One of the most common ways that the pain of a separation is felt involves anger, especially when one parent feels that they have been wronged by the other parent. Unfortunately, too often one parent seeks to deal with that anger by denying the other parent a meaningful relationship with the children or refusing to cooperate in the parenting process. Not only is this approach potentially damaging to the children, but ultimately a court will take a dim view of a parent who deliberately seeks to deny the other parent contact with their children.
Often parents see the issue from their own perspective and each parent’s “right” to and in the children results in unnecessary conflict. The law however does not approach the question from that perspective. Instead, the law looks at what is in the best interests of the children, rather than what is in the best interests of the parents.
Thankfully, there are some simple and effective tools that parents can implement to try and avoid conflict after separation and to try and ensure that the confusing and hurtful separation of their parents impacts as little as possible on the children.
Think from your children’s perspective
Approach your discussions and relationship with your former partner from the point of view that the court takes-i.e. what is in the best interests of our children?
For example, is it in their best interests that parents fight all the time and denigrate each other or is it in their best interests to see their parents, whom they both love (even though the parents may not love each other anymore) treat each other respectfully?
Facilitate the children’s relationship with the other parent
Remember, even though you may not love your ex-partner your children still do. Make sure that you facilitate contact with the other parent as this will help your children adjust to your break up, which is already a very stressful situation for them to deal with.
Encourage your children to contact the other parent when they are in your care and if that parent tries to contact the children, allow the children to speak to them. This helps to maintain the bond between parents and their children and will help the children to not feel as though they have lost a parent at a time when many feel they have lost their family.
Above all else, do not denigrate the other parent in front of the children. This is damaging to the children, to the other parent and ultimately will also be damaging to you.
Establishing a regular routine so that the children know what to expect is important. However, inflexibility and stubbornness will create conflict. It pays to be flexible. For example, if your partner asks to extend contact for a special occasion, remember that you too might also have a similar need at some time in the future.
Also, the age of the children is an important factor in determining what will work-for now. However, as children grow, their needs change and your parenting responses must adapt to those changing circumstances.
Respect each other’s differences
Parents sometimes have different parenting styles. Just because your ex-partner’s style differs to yours does not make it wrong.
If the difference does not affect your children’s health and well-being, consider being understanding or forgiving of these differences and instead concentrate on the bigger picture. For example, a child’s medical needs may be non-negotiable whereas one parent’s willingness to let children stay up an extra half hour watching TV might be something that is not worth arguing about.
Communication is the key
Each parent’s time with the children will be more enjoyable and your children will benefit more if each parent is up to date with what the children are doing and coping with.
For example, each parent should be made aware of all medical issues and conditions suffered by a child, the child’s school progress, any behavioural issues that have arisen or any problems that the child is having such as being bullied at school.
This will help each parent meet the changing needs of the child as they arise.
Don’t forget granny and grandad
Parents are not the only significant people in your children’s lives. Before your separation, your children are likely to have had strong and loving relationships with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and relatives. Keep in mind that just because you have separated from your partner does not mean that your children don’t still love your partner’s parents, siblings etc. (and vice versa).
Recognise the important role that these people (especially grandparents) have in your children’s life and think about how their time will be spent with these people so that the relationship can be maintained.
Respect the other parent’s new life
Remember, your ex-partner is just that. That means that each parent has a right to be happy in another relationship. Whilst you may naturally feel some resentment if your partner appears to be moving on before you, avoid the temptation to denigrate or fight with that new person as this will set a bad example for the children. Whatever you may think, your children need to respect that person, especially if they are living in the same home and if you don’t set a good example, the children are unlikely to behave differently to you.
Abuse is not acceptable
Physical or verbal abuse of your ex-partner or of the children is not and will never be acceptable. No matter how angry you are or how justified you feel, it is never acceptable to verbally or physically abuse your ex-partner. This can have harmful effects on your children and can lead to you being charged with a criminal offence. It may also impact upon a court’s willingness to allow you to spend time with your children.
If conflict is unavoidable
Sometimes, one parent may be attempting to be cooperative whilst the other is combative. If you find yourself in a similar situation where the other person is not working with you, you should seek legal advice. Our lawyers will help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities, and explain how the law applies to your case. We can also help negotiate an agreement with your former partner without going to court. If court is unavoidable, we will fight for your rights and the rights of your children.
Romeo El Daghl, Solicitor Director, Lawpoint
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