In this issue of the magazine, Jennie Apsey, Solicitor in the Family Department at Dean Wilson LLP, looks at the best way for parents to tell their children that they are separating and how to come to agreement in respect of Child Arrangements.
We have decided to separate but have not yet told the children. How do you advise we should do this?
Every situation and child is different so there is no one answer to this question. Of course, much will depend on the age and emotional maturity of the children concerned. Pre-school children need simple, concrete explanations and are unlikely to be able to articulate their feelings. You as their parents are their whole world and they will not have the ability to think about the future. They will need reassurance about where they will live, who will look after them and how often they will see the other parent. Six to 11 years olds will be more able to understand and think and talk about their feelings, however they do still tend to see things in black and white and will have a limited understanding of complex adult issues like separation and divorce. Secondary school age children will have a far greater capacity to understand these issues and are likely to ask more questions and challenge parental authority and decision making.
From my experience as a Family Solicitor I have assessed that damage to children of all ages may be limited by following some or all of the following:
1. Inform your children jointly of the decision to separate.
2. Talk to them in an environment in which they
feel comfortable, for example at home.
3. Be honest but avoid blaming each other. Avoid giving children too much information or information they do not need.
4. Emphasise that it is not the children’s fault and that both parents love them equally. They need to understand that the decision to separate is an adult decision which they didn’t cause and can’t influence.
5. Do not make children feel they have to choose between you. Tell them that their life will be different but do not give them choices – it is your job as their parents to make the decisions. Children will want to know how life will change from their point of view, not yours, so letting them know what will change and what will still be the same is important.
6. Make sure they realise that they are free to love both parents as before. Try to separate your feelings from the children’s feelings – do not confuse your child by belittling or criticising the other parent.
7. Expect your child to play one parent off against the other or even to take sides. This is very common. Do not hold what they say against them – allow them to express their feelings.
8. For contact arrangements, make them clear to the children and make them regular – children usually like routines as they feel more secure knowing where they will be, when and with whom.
We are having difficulty agreeing what is in the best interests of the children in terms of living and contact arrangements. How can we overcome this?
You may need the help of a third party to come to an agreement about Child Arrangements and a family consultant or mediator can assist with this and help you formulate a Parenting Plan to refer to moving forwards.
What is the difference between a family consultant and a mediator?
A family consultant provides therapeutic and emotional support and helps separating parents navigate a way forward in the best interests of their children. A family consultant does not focus on legal or financial matters, focussing instead on the emotional wellbeing of all the family members. It can sometimes be helpful to speak with a family consultant to prepare you for the process of mediation, or even for them to work alongside the mediator. Family consultants aim to provide an impartial ‘third-eye’ perspective to assist parents in prioritising their children’s needs and wellbeing.
A mediator is trained to listen to both parents, to assist them in their discussions and to work towards a solution that is in the best interests of the children. The mediator will ensure that both parents have the opportunity to speak and put their views forward within a neutral, safe environment. Mediators do not take sides and do not advise. Mediators are not therapists, and their role does not extend to providing therapeutic or emotional support.
Do I need a Solicitor?
A Solicitor will be able to advise you in relation to your rights and obligations which you may find helpful prior to embarking on mediation with your partner. However, Solicitor and Court intervention should be considered as a last resort. Some cases require Solicitors to negotiate on the parents’ behalf and/or the benefit of a Court Order to regulate Child Arrangements. However, in the first instance it is far better to try hard to sort difficulties direct with your ex-partner. The children will benefit most if you are able to maintain communication and establish a good co-parenting arrangement going forwards.
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As an ABC reader you can call the Family Department on 01273 249200 to arrange a no obligation telephone discussion and, if required, a fixed-fee meeting.