Separation: How to resolve parenting issues
There are numerous issues that can arise for parents following a separation. The vast majority of these are resolved by agreement, either just between themselves or with the help of outside agencies i.e. solicitors, mediation and/or counselling.
Sometimes, however, even with the best will in the world, things go wrong. Sadly, on occasion badly so. In those cases, if all else fails, the law provides a framework for a solution to be found.
It should be made clear that the fact solicitors become involved does not mean that a case will definitely go to court. In matters concerning children, most solicitors will try to help their client avoid court and try to find a solution which is agreed between the parents where possible. It is only when it is not possible to resolve matters by agreement that a court may have to be involved.
Separation is, for most people, a traumatic and emotionally challenging experience, even when it is a mutual and/or amicable. It can give rise to a wide variety of emotions and practical difficulties, particularly when there are children involved.
Someone who is normally balanced and reasonable can, when faced with any of these difficulties, find that their judgement is adversely affected. Such a response is a commonplace symptom of the uncertainty and loss of confidence which can frequently arise when faced with fundamental life changes.
Most parents, after separation, try to create an atmosphere which emphasises to the children that they are still loved by both parents. They will try to ensure that they do not openly criticise the other parent in front of the children.
Even in the 'best' situations, it is often the case that one parent feels removed from everyday decisions. Things do not always run smoothly which is when third party help may be necessary.
What problems might arise between separated parents?
There are so many issues which can arise in which parents find that they have differing views. Just a few examples are:-
- The time to be spent by the children in each household and the arrangements for holidays, Christmas, birthdays, special events etc.
- The introduction of a new partner and sometimes step-brothers and sisters
- The way in which the new partner exercises authority over the children
- A variation or lack of consistency in the ‘house rules’ applicable in each of the new households
- Disagreements over specific issues such as schooling, medical treatment, a proposed name change
- Whether the children should have contact with wider family members and if so how often
How can separated parents resolve problems?
Most family lawyers would say that there are few problems which cannot be resolved by direct and reasonable communication between the parents before they have escalated into major issues. Parents should try to focus on the needs and welfare of the children. This is never a situation in which there is a ‘winner’. There is just a ‘solution’.
However, this does require a reasonable approach from both parents, and agreement is sometimes hard to find when tensions and feelings are running high. It is often in that atmosphere that the help of a third party is most needed and useful.
Provided that it is appropriate and workable for both parties to attend mediation, it is often a good starting place for parents who cannot reach an agreement directly between themselves. Very often parties engaged in mediation choose to receive legal advice from a solicitor alongside the process.
If mediation is not suitable, or takes place and is not successful, then negotiations directly between solicitors on behalf of the parties is the next sensible step to take.
If it really does prove impossible for the parents to find a solution by discussion, mediation or via solicitors, then either has the right to apply to the court for a determination.
This is not just for cases where parents cannot agree where the children should live or how much time is to be spent with each parent. The court has the legal power to make a ‘child arrangements order’ in relation to any part of the children's lives.
This is only a short summary of possible issues concerning children which can arise on separation. Whatever the issues involved, we always encourage a child-focussed approach, and encourage our clients to remember that there is always a solution: it is a question of finding it and ensuring that it is maintained.
If you or anyone you know, are affected by the issues raised above and would like more information or some preliminary, confidential advice, please contact Pippa Allsop or one of our other experienced experts in our family team.