Relationship Breakdown How to Minimise The Impact Upon Children
Breakdown of a relationship often represents an emotional maelstrom – with feelings of anger, distraction, fear and dislike dominating. These difficulties if not bad enough are sometimes exacerbated by issues of domestic violence or alcohol/drug mis-use. Proceeding through this emotional minefield needs careful planning and thought. A good starting point is to access neutral information as to how to try and manage things in the best interests of your children. You may take the view that much of the available guidance is common sense but we respectfully say from our experience as family lawyers that if you read just one thing that helps you and your former partner to pause and reflect you may be able to help your children immensely. On line sources include:-www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/downloadabledocs/planner. This is a free downloadable guide published by the Department for Education and Skills – a guide for separating parents on how to put your children first.
www.divorceandchildren.com. This (American) site offers practical guidance to separated parents to help children manage. We particularly recommend the pages on this website setting out suggested “Do’s and Don’ts” for parenting with your former partner.
Books include: Dinosaurs Divorce: Mark Brown/Laurie Brown ISBN 0316109967 For children aged 4-8 years. Divorce Helpbook for Kids: Cynthia Macregor ISBN1886230390For older children. Helping Children Cope with Divorce: Rosemary Wells ISBN078795554XFor parents – designed to help separating parents ease children’s emotional difficulties on relationship breakdown. The government produces a document known as a “Parenting Plan”. The concept behind this document is to form the basis for direct discussions between parents as to arrangements for your children and to minimise and ensure that issues concerning the children’s day to day care, religion, schooling, health and so on are all agreed in advance.
Some issues to consider…………
- Separation from a Partner is extremely stressful. The evidence is that as we become increasingly stressed so the quality of our judgement and decision-making declines. You may conclude from this that reflection and pause before confronting the other parent about children may be beneficial. It may also be wise to look after yourself (see separate briefing note) – you will be helping your children too.
- There will occasionally be circumstances justifying withholding or limiting contact. These will include significant domestic violence, substance or sexual abuse. If any of these apply take legal advice promptly.
- There is evidence to suggest that children who fail to maintain a meaningful relationship with each parent after separation will have an increased risk of suffering in adulthood from low self-esteem, depression, drug and alcohol use, suffering from failed relationships and in the case of girls teenage pregnancy.
What Can You Do?
- Try and talk to your partner and agree what to say to the children and try and speak to them together. Ensure you both emphasise that it is not the children’s fault and that both parents love them. Make it plain to the children that the separation is definite and that they cannot influence this and that it is not their responsibility to “make things right”. Give the children an opportunity to ask questions.
- Try and agree with your partner a regime for the care of the children – this will help the children feel secure. Try and agree practical issues (the parenting plan might help). It is important to try and maintain unity in relation to the children’s care (for example, bed times and discipline) post separation. Failure to do so can lead to “parallel parenting” and can be confusing and upsetting for children.
- Try and keep communicating constructively with your former partner. Children are sensitive to an “atmosphere” at handover and sharing information as to how the children are coping can only be beneficial. You may be able to meet on neutral ground to have child centred discussions – if that is not practical consider a “contact book” write notes (e.g. things to remember, points of concern and so on).
- Try and be positive – don’t agree or speak negatively concerning the other parent in front of the children.
- Try and take a long-term view – for yourself and for your children. Are you and your former partner able to agree this?
- Listen to your child and if you are concerned by how the children are coping respond quickly and seek advice. Health Visitors, GPs and Schools are often good sources of help in those situations.
- Remember that your children are children – don’t treat them as confidantes.
- Encourage your child to have a good relationship with both of you – and to spend time with both of you.
Lawson Lewis Blakers have considerable experience in dealing with complex Children Law cases.