Who cares for the children?

Whenever parties separate and there are children, then a decision has to be made as to whom the children are going to live with.  Do they stay mainly with one parent and have contact with the other or is there some sort of shared parenting arrangement whereby, as far as possible, the children spend equal time with both parents?  Is this a good idea?  Is it a good idea for the parents but not for the children?  How do families best manage the care of their children?  Who cares for the children? 2 children at the windowVery often both parents want to be fully involved with their children’s lives but face the practical difficulty that really the children can only live with one parent which means contact with the other can often be intermittent, alternate weekends and a few days during the week.  Is this enough to maintain proper contact and a good relationship with your child or children? Lots of fathers fear losing their children if they separate from the child’s mother.  But equally mothers too fear losing their children in some way.  Even if the children live mainly with the mother, there will be weekends when they will be with their father who may have a new partner and possibly even a new family.  Separation can cause pain all round. There has been a lobby suggesting that if the time the children spent with both parents was equal this would necessarily be the best in all cases.  This highlights the fact that this presumption actually risks subordinating a child’s best interest to the parents’ expectations of ‘equal’ rights.  It can be hard when parents separate to decide what is best for the children as opposed to what is the best for them, the parents.  Do children really want to spend half the time with one parent and half the time with the other with all the practical difficulties involved in changing from one house to another? Sometimes this can be the best arrangement, particularly if the parents live near to each other and get on well.  But if the parents do not get on well and cannot see each other without arguing then going constantly backwards and forwards creates a lot of tension. Obviously it is best if that tension can be avoided or dissipated altogether as both parents and children learn to move on and deal with their new situation. All that can be said really is that there should be no hard and fast ‘rule’.  It is not the case the children automatically stay with their mother:  it is the case that both mums and dads need to look at what is actually best for their children and most of all try and have a good relationship with each other, even though you have separated, to ensure that the time the children spend with both of you is good. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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It’s the children who suffer most

2 children at the windowWe perhaps all know that the traditional nuclear family – mother, father and children that they have produced together, although possibly the “norm” is by no means the only concept of “family” which society recognises. With the increasing recognition of same sex relationships, other family arrangements are made and it follows too that when these new families break down, the court has to adapt some of the traditional concepts of “family” to meet these new challenges. A recently reported case dealt with a family dispute between two same sex relationships who shared the care of two children.  So you had the child’s father with his male partner and the child’s mother living with her female partner.  The two girls lived mainly with their mother and her partner, but had contact with their father and his partner. The adults then fell out and the judge introduced the concept of “principal parents” to describe the two women and “secondary parents” to describe the father and his partner.  The court dispute between the four adults was about what role the men should play in the girls’ upbringing moving forward.  The women felt that it should be limited, whereas the men considered that it should reflect what they felt had been the case so far – to be fully involved in the children’s lives. Unfortunately the situation between the parents became very acrimonious and this had a devastating effect on the children.  A CAFCASS Officer (court welfare officer) was involved on the children’s behalf and she spoke in relation to one of the children of “the horrendous tangle of emotion and conflict that exists between these adults [which] has resulted in such misery for [the child].  The misery is not because of the way in which she was treated, it is because these adults and their failure to manage their own conflicting feelings, reactions and personal baggage, have handed over the responsibility for coping with this mess to the child.” Interestingly the judge put it that the child needed “emotional permission” to continue her relationship with the men and that this permission lay “purely in the gift of the women” and they were not prepared to give it. Although the family arrangement was in some ways far from normal, it does highlight even more clearly how disputes between adults can irrevocably damage children.  It was clear that both children were quite unable to deal with this conflict – and of course why should they have to. Remember, in any family situation it is never separation that damages children, but conflict.  So whatever the family situation, the adults owe it to their children to keep conflict to a minimum and certainly to avoid involving the children at all in their disputes. Taking the mediation route instead of going to court will help ensure that some sort of relationship is maintained between the adults as, going forward, although they are separated they will need to both have contact with the children and that needs to be managed well for all concerned. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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5 more ways to avoid divorce

2 children at the window1)   Children. They can be a source of great joy, but also of great stress. Becoming parents introduces a different dynamic to your relationship. Be prepared to adapt to this and support one another. 2)   Take a look at your spouse’s parents – this is what he/she is likely to become. If you like what you see, fine – if not, a possible warning sign! 3)   Talk to somebody who has gone through the process – find out what it’s really like to go through a divorce. Some people never recover from the experience, but others go on to something better. Decide what the experience is likely to be for you. Most lawyers will offer a free interview session to get some basic facts, but don’t forget the emotional cost. 4)   Think about your friends. If you separate from your partner, how are they going to deal with it?  Who stays friends with whom? It can cause immense difficulties. But friends can provide essential support to enable you to survive the experience of separating. 5)    If you do decide there is no alternative to separating – do it collaboratively, avoid the stress and expense of a court process, which merely polarises and antagonises both parties. If you have children you will both want to be involved in their upbringing so if you cannot stay together, at least separate in a way that enables you to remain in one sense or another a family. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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Changing the family for the better

Little girl in a fieldWe are all aware that divorce rates are rising and there is supposedly a crisis with the nuclear family in Britain. We look back to some mythical time in the 1950s with its low divorce rates and seemingly perfect happy families, to a time that we may want to emulate. However, there were very real social and economic pressures which prevented people from divorcing. Women had very little economic freedom and a divorce often meant social shame and economic hardship. Only the rich could divorce, and even then the fear of scandal would often prevent it. Surely it’s better that we now have the freedom to leave unhappy relationships and hopefully form better ones. Henrietta Moore, a Professor of social anthropology at Cambridge gave a talk with the following fascinating facts. Women nowadays spend three times longer with their children than they did during the 1970’s, even though more women are now working. Fathers obviously spend more time with their children, in the 1950s the average time that  a father spent with his children was 5 minutes a day. In the 1950s only 2% of the British population lived together before marriage, now it’s over 77%. We increasingly have the pattern of older children, even married children moving back to or remaining in the family home. Children rarely leave home when they go to University, they retain a base and lack of employment or low wages mean that many young people are forced to remain living with their parents for economic reasons. The big change is the fact that fathers’ time with their children has increased by 200 times since the 1950s.  It’s a given that the fathers spend quality time with their children, and if parents separate, that both parents have a continuing role in those children’s lives. Why is it though, that with both parents spending more and more time with their children, this seems to have coincided with a huge increase in divorce rates? It’s obviously socially much more acceptable for couples to separate, and although financially difficult, it is generally possible to share the assets so that both parties can survive economically. In many ways, we seem to have a much better family life than during the 1950s, perhaps it’s just a reflection of the fact that we don’t often get it right the first time. It must be an advantage that we have more freedom to choose the type of family arrangement that best suits us and our children, provided that we can remember that everyone in the family has needs. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.  
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Kids back to school – time for a divorce?

children walking through wheat fieldWe've just had the best summer weather for a number of years and the chance to get out and spend time doing the things we enjoy during our holidays.  However back to school in September often heralds a rethink of people’s situation, getting round to those jobs that you left during the summer whilst the kids were at home and quite often that involves dealing with personal issues. There are always a lot of enquiries about divorce and separation in September and although the end of the holidays may be a catalyst to those enquiries, it is important to remember that your children will have to live with whatever arrangements you make. That might sound obvious but is often forgotten. When parents separate they will generally both want to be as fully involved with the children’s lives as they were before, sometimes that leads to conflict but what it should lead to is a commitment from both parents to ensure that they work together in some way despite the fact that they are separating. It is almost impossible for separation not to mean that both parties are financially worse off so it needs the whole family to work together to decide practical issues such as where is everybody going to live and how they are going to manage financially. The last thing you want is to add a hefty legal bill in to all the other extra costs. That can be avoided if, from the outset, you decide to try and collaborate during the divorce process. Your children will be understandably anxious about what is going to happen, assure them that through no fault of their own you are going to be living separately but that you both want the best for them and  ensure that there are no arguments in front of or about them. Parents should take it upon themselves to ensure that they don’t try and burden children with adult issues. In practice this means that if the kids are going to visit dad, mum needs to give them every encouragement to go; it doesn’t help if she looks sad about them going making them feel in some way disloyal to her or responsible for her being lonely without them. Mum needs to put a brave face on it whatever she might be feeling because these are not emotions children should have to bear. They want to see their mum and their dad. Similarly when they are at their dad’s they do not want to hear how rotten their mum is – they love their mum (and their dad). They want to be able to speak about one parent to the other without feeling guilty or disloyal or that they somehow can’t mention the other parent. Children need to be able to speak to and about both parents. Similarly adults need to be sensitive and responsible about their new relationships. It’s no good rushing into a relationship full of enthusiasm without considering the effect that it may have on your children if you bring in a ‘new’ mum or dad, or worse, new siblings! Kids these days are under a lot of pressure at school, keeping up with their friends. They need plenty of adult support, help and encouragement if their parents are separating. Often this extra support is needed just when those very adults are in the worst possible place to give it, when their life seems to be falling apart because of their separation. Perhaps then we should all be more willing to give practical and emotional support to anyone we know going through a divorce or separation – because it’s never easy. However people can actually get through a really difficult situation and move on to something better, learning from the experience and using that positively with their children and in new relationships. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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The high cost of divorce

Father walking his childrenThere has been plenty in the press about the rising number of complaints about family lawyers, in particular to the legal ombudsman.  The main reason for those complaints seems to be the cost of divorce in terms of legal fees.  I am not going to defend the position of family lawyers here but I think anyone involved in divorce, in whatever capacity, knows that things often do not go well – there is often an over-optimistic approach and while everyone hopes that matters will be resolved amicably, sometimes they are not!  As I always say, the more people can agree between themselves, the better, not only for them personally and emotionally but also to reduce legal costs. One thing that often gets in the way is the grudge.  One or both parties bear a grudge and they do not let it go.  I am told that US lawyers are advised to “pour honey over the heart of resentment”.  Not something that I have ever felt moved to do but perhaps it would be useful if we could all accept responsibility for times we have over-reacted to a supposed offence.  We may have to accept that bad stuff happens to good people for no reason and we all need to move forward. In an ideal world I am sure divorcing couples would have access to divorce coaches, counsellors, psychologists, family therapists e.t.c. as well as the lawyer.  But since the lawyers alone tend to be more than people can afford, these other resources are just not going to be available. So the question remains:  how does one move forward after a divorce?  It is easy to say forgiveness and acceptance are important criteria but the Decree Absolute or Court proceedings cannot themselves be a grudge to an end.  Part of the divorce process should allow and enable both parties to move on without any anger, resentment or bitterness that may well affect any future relationships. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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