Co-Parenting after Divorce or Separation Part 1

When parents separate, one of their main anxieties is to ensure that the best possible arrangements for their children are in place. The majority of parents achieve this by agreement, without needing to go to court.

Sadly, some parents find it difficult to reach such an agreement without outside intervention. This piece gives what are, hopefully, useful tips for avoiding common pitfalls in making arrangements for children caught up in this situation.

The welfare of the children is paramount

Not only is this the law but it is the approach which all sensible parents should want to take.

Ensuring that decisions are made with the welfare of the children in mind does NOT mean that parents should always do what the children want. When children are old enough, it is important to involve children in discussions relating to their future and to take the views of children into account: however it is the parents who must make the ultimate decisions and not lay the responsibility on the children themselves. After all, if things go wrong and problems arise with the arrangements, it is the parents who must sort them out and not let the children feel guilty that they have caused the problem. It is very rare for the children to be the cause of problems between the parents relating to arrangements for their children.

Be ready to talk and listen  

Remember how difficult parenting was at times before the separation. The addition of separate households makes it even more difficult.

Try to maintain good communications with a former partner, however difficult that might seem. There is nothing that children dislike more (except perhaps being themselves the subject of physical or emotional abuse) than seeing and hearing their parents having arguments over arrangements relating to them. As illogical as it may be, children often blame themselves for what has happened between their parents and there is no reason why they should have to carry that burden.

Remember that in any conversation, there is a time to speak and a time to be quiet and listen.pa

Support the other parent in front of the children

This is linked with the second point above.

The fact that their parents are separated does not mean that one of the parents becomes less of a parent, certainly in the eyes of the children. It may be difficult for a parent who is very distressed by the new family situation, to adopt a benevolent view of the former partner, but it will not help by trying to make that paret the “enemy” in the eyes of the children.

There is a much evidence to show that children who, after the separation of their parents, grow up with a loving and supportive relationship with both parents, knowing that neither of their parents resents that relationship, become much better adjusted adults themselves. In turn this will affect the sort of parents that those children eventually become.

Establish the 'main' home

When children are spending time with each parent, there is a very natural desire for each parent to treat theirs as the main home of the children. That is just an extension of the 'caring' instinct which parents have towards their children. New situations, however, require different approaches – and a considerable degree of generosity.

In certain instances (e.g. for schools or doctor) a 'main' address will have to be given but the address of both parents could be given, unless that is impossible for reasons of safety.

To be inclusive of both parents may in some cases be an unachievable aspiration, but in many situations, it is helpful for the children.

Parents should try not to be exclusive when referring to their home: it is no reflection on a parent to tell children that they have a home with both parents.

Share information about the children

Like so much else, this is all about communication. There is a simple question: when parents are separated, is it likely that one will be less interested in what is happening to their children than they were before the separation? The answer is, of course 'no'.

There are nevertheless some cases where this does happen and taken to extremes, this can lead to a parent losing touch with the children. However, for that to happen, except in the most extreme situations (e.g. abuse or violence) cannot be in the best interests of the children. Parents would do well to ensure that children feel happy, relaxed and secure in the company of each party and go to great lengths to ensure that the children do not feel that they are 'letting down’ one parent by enjoying the company of the other.

To read part 2 of this article click here.

For more information or some preliminary confidential advice please contact Pippa Allsop, Associate in our Family Team, on +44 (0)1392 687747 or email pippa.allsop@michelmores.com