Why do couples use their most precious possessions as ammunition?

Here’s a question for family lawyers: how many times have you been involved in a final hearing about child contact, the fight for that extra half-hour; the struggle over how the four-year-old should be ‘shared’ on Christmas day? What about couples bartering maintenance for child contact time? CAFCASS officers becoming involved, three year olds interviewed to ascertain what’s in their ‘best interests’?

Many marriages are not going to last for ever, but co-parenting will!

Helping couples create a co-parenting agreement through mediation is a solid and gratifying way forward for many parents although left until too late in the separation process, mediation is often less successful. Mediation is now more centrally positioned in legal thinking and produces excellent results. However, here are eight scenarios for divorcing parents, from the mediation caseload, about how ‘not’ to do it.

Children are resilient but not Teflon-coated…

  1. One parent who ‘badmouths’ the other, to the 6 year old during a contact visit.
  2. One parent being so psychologically ‘needy’ after separation that the 10 year old feels he must look after her.
  3. The 5 year old child feeling ‘disloyal’ to one parent if he says he enjoyed his contact day with the other.
  4. The 8 year old finding herself in the position of covering up the fact that she has met her dad’s new girlfriend.
  5. The screaming row, between parents, in the street when dad is 30 minutes late returning the children after contact.
  6. The resentment from mum when dad buys new clothes for the 7 year old during her stay with him. (The clothes have ended up in the dustbin).
  7. The fighting, and legal letters, concerning the amount of contact time that each parent ‘deserves’.
  8. The 7 year old boy caught in the middle of a contact dispute, who is on his third round of clinical psychology for ‘anxiety and depression’

So what do children say they want?

  • Love, stability and a calm atmosphere
  • Mum and dad to get on better whether they’re together or apart.
  • Not being asked to choose between their parents
  • Not being the focal point of their parents’ battle
  • Being allowed to love both their parents equally without feeling guilty, or disloyal to one.
  • Being allowed to have a ‘primary’ bedroom in a ‘primary’ home with easy, stress-free access to the other parent’s home.
  • Relaxed communication with one parent when staying with the other.
  • To not be treated as a ‘possession’ but as a real person who will be a future adult.
  • Space to communicate their worries and express their feelings about their family’s breakdown.
  • Support to manage changes and come to terms with their situation.
  • To feel less isolated.

Therapeutic support

Solicitors may feel that their brief is limited to applying the law to the facts, but they are also well placed (and it is good client-care) to help divorcing parents to support their children’s emotional needs. There are excellent therapeutic organisations to which professionals can refer children going through the divorce experience.

One particularly recommended is www.akidspace.co.uk. These child-therapists run talking groups for children caught up in separation and divorce. The children have often felt that no one else understands what they are going through; the group enables them to meet others who are in similar situations and are encouraged to offer peer-support and group problem-solving. One child told his father after the first group that he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

So solicitors, barristers, mediators, therapists, relationship counsellors, let’s not sit by and watch children being torn apart; help is available. Let’s have an eye to the ‘fallout’ in divorce and support the children towards more solid ground.

For akidscape contact Emma on 07980 556174.