A few weeks ago, a documentary on Channel 4 highlighted the significant problems facing a number of separated families at this time: children caught in the middle of an acrimonious parental dispute and a court system with significant backlogs.
As a result of this, the children can become embroiled in parental conflict which will inevitably continue to have an impact upon them, even when the parents have resolved matters.
Common issues which I have encountered are:
- One parent denigrating the other parent to or in earshot of the children;
- The parents arguing and being abusive towards one another in front of the children;
- One parent discussing the proceedings (including divorce and financial) in front of the children;
- Asking the children (regardless of a young age) whether or not they want to see their other parent;
- A parent coaching the children to make allegations about the other parent (although thankfully, this is less common).
These are just a few of a number of examples. However all of them are likely to have an impact upon the emotional wellbeing of the children at that time and going forward. Even when the parents have resolved their dispute, the children are likely to need support as they may feel anxious, or distressed about what has happened or their future arrangements. It is not unusual for a child or the family then to be referred to a child or a family therapist.
The law in relation to children pursuant to the Children Act 1989 is that each parent with Parental Responsibility must agree on all of the important decisions in their child’s life. This includes where a child should live, should spend their time, which school the child should attend, what the child’s religion should be etc. Neither parent may dictate one of those decisions to the other parent and if such a decision cannot be agreed then the court can make a decision based upon what is in the child’s best interests.
However, all efforts should be made to reach agreements based upon what is in the best interest of the child/children. If an agreement cannot be reached then mediation or family therapy at the beginning of the process should be considered to ensure that the children are protected from any potential family conflict.
A number of the country’s leading child focussed organisations have come together to join “The Positive Parenting Alliance” which has one aim: to create a genuinely child-focussed society and better systems to ensure the long-term wellbeing of children when parents separate. This alliance asks parents to sign up to a promise whereby they each promise to ‘put their child’s needs first and recognise that the child needs both parents in their life’, ‘to work together to keep the child safe whilst always being respectful to one another’. They promise that they ‘will never hurt or tell lies about each other and that they will work together as a partnership to provide the best conditions for the child to thrive’.
This has to be a better way for children and in the event that you require any advice or assistance in relation to child arrangements following separation with your partner, we have a number of specialist family lawyers within the team who can assist you. Please call 0808 252 5231 or request a call back.