How realistic is shared care of the children?

3 children runningEven in families with a stay-at-home mother or father, generally speaking most parents share the care of their children in some way or other.  When parents separate they expect to be able to continue shared care of the children but, obviously, whatever arrangements need to be made can be difficult to envisage before the parties actually separate.  What does shared care look like?  Is it one week with one parent, one week with the other?  This might be “fair” in terms of equalising the time spent with both parents but is it right for children to be continually moving from one house to the next?  Do they not need a base – but with whom? According to research carried out by Oxford University only 3% of separated families in the UK are currently in a shared care arrangement.  In Australia the concept of “equal shared parental responsibility” except where there is violence or abuse has been enshrined in law since 2006.  This means that of cases coming before the Court, 30% are being forced into a shared care arrangement.  So those parents whose relationship is not good - because they have had to resort to the Court to decide how to care for their children - are the very parents who are forced into a shared care arrangement and are therefore having to have constant communication with each other. The best interests of children after parental separation is not dependant upon the amount of time which they spend with each parent but more with the quality of parenting received, the quality of the relationship between their parents, the practical resources available including income and housing - and definitely not to any particular pattern of care or amount of time. Perhaps in an effort to be fair to parents there is a danger of being unfair to children? Frequent moves between households can, for children, bring practical and emotional difficulties in terms of the constant packing and planning.  But, obviously, the level of difficulty depends on the distance between moves, the frequency of moves, the level of any conflict between the parents and also the child’s personality and preferences.  So each case must depend not just on practical arrangements for the child but what their personality and the effect of a shared arrangement would be on them.  How is the voice of the child heard?  Is it heard at all? The Courts are currently directed to look at the best needs of the child or children - the welfare of these children should be paramount.  Is it actually possible to achieve both “fairness” to act in the best interests of the child? Rather than arguing through the Courts and becoming more and more polarised, parents should try and work together to ensure that everyone’s needs - theirs and the children's - are met, and family therapy may be more appropriate than litigation.  Parents have a responsibility to ensure the long-term wellbeing of their children. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email

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

Who looks after the children?

children walking through wheat fieldRecent statistics have revealed that not only in most families do both parents work, full or part time, but also more surprising the increasing number of families where the woman is the main breadwinner.  We should not be surprised though it should perhaps lead us to question some other perceptions about who is or should be looking after the children. When parents separate there is often a fear on the part of fathers that they will in some way “lose their children”, that if they go to Court the odds are stacked against them because the perception is that children always stay with their mothers. But Judges do actually live in the real world, they and all the Court staff are part of the working population where it is normal for both parents to be juggling work and childcare.  So when parents separate it is only logical that Courts will see that men and women may both work and both want to see their children.  We have plenty of female Judges who may have a stay at home partner looking after their children.  There really is no longer any automatic prejudice in favour of mothers except in the case of very small babies who may be physically dependant on their mother.  It still happens though that the person, often the mother, who has the major child caring role considers that contact is their gift to dispense with as they decide.  The Court's view is that what is most important is what is in the child’s best interests.  Not what either parent may want. If we focus on what is in the best interests of the children, it is of course that the parents should not go to Court, should not argue about childcare but should resolve their differences through negotiation and compromise.  This itself conveys valuable lessons to the children. Fathers are often very fearful about losing contact which can make them over aggressive, anxious that they will lose their children forever.  Perhaps if they were more reassured that the Court’s attitude is very much that children should spend time with both parents, a lot of the hostility could be avoided. Historically children were very much the man’s property and women had no rights at all on separation or divorce.  Then the approach was that children always stayed with their mother,  possibly we now have a more sensible view which looks at the practical realities of daily life, the needs of the children and the importance of avoiding conflict. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email

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

Is it possible to have a happy family holiday post-divorce?

children and father on holidayIs it possible to have a happy family holiday post-divorce?  No divorcing person needs to be told how important their children are and no divorcing parent needs to be told how stressful the process can be and how difficult, in particular, the summer holiday period can be.  There is the practical difficulties of arranging childcare over the summer holiday with your partner or ex-partner, and of course deciding who is to go on holiday with whom and when.  Added to all of this there will be the fact that having separated or divorced, the parties are generally worse off financially, so all of this combines to produce what can be a very stressful situation. Among the issues you and your children may be worried about this holiday period are:-
  • Which parent will have access to the children and when?
  • Will the children be able to fully relax and have a fun time with only one parent, will they not feel disloyal or miss the other parent?
  • Will there be any competition between parents about the provision of a holiday, is the parent with the better job or a new partner able to give the children a better holiday?
  • How do you deal with the fact that there may be sad memories of past holidays when you were all together?
Of course holidays will never be the same post-separation but here are some practical suggestions to have the best possible holiday:
  1. Start by planning ahead - having a schedule in place for when the children will be with which partner will ease their anxiety and help any transitions between parents.
  2. Before going away make a mental resolution to enjoy the holiday, whatever the circumstances are during the lead up to it.  Whatever trauma and stress you may have been through as a family, whatever you might be feeling towards your ex, try and have a good time away with your children.
  3. Have the best holiday you possibly can under the circumstances.  Show the children that whatever has happened to the family, you still love them and want to share your holiday, and in particular, your time with them.
  4. Don’t say unpleasant things about the other parent. You don’t want your children to feel guilty or confused about spending holiday time with your ex-partner.
  5. Let your former partner have their quality time with the children and don’t argue about it or interfere.  You both have as much right to spend time with the children as each other.
  6. Appreciate that your children may be sad that their parents can’t both be there to enjoy the holiday together. Let them know that it is okay to feel that way.  Don’t pressure them to act happy if they don’t honestly feel it.
I am grateful for Dan Couvrette of Divorce Magazine for some of these tips. Further tips are available from Nicola Menage who specializes in stress management including stress resulting from relationship breakdown. Above all, try and have a good holiday! For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email