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 info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Managing Christmas as a divorced or separated parent

Although it is only November, as soon as the clocks go back it seems that everyone is trying to get us to focus on Christmas.  Christmas can be a great family time of year, an excuse to take some time to visit friends and family, but equally it can be a dreadful time of financial and emotional stress which can, for some families, be the final straw.  Or it can just be average:  most peoples’ Christmases are in fact just that – ok, nothing more nothing less.  But unfortunately the weeks of hype that lead up to Christmas encourage everyone to expect that Christmas should in some way be fantastic –  full of smiling parents and beautiful children, the perfect Granny and other relations in attendance, everyone with lavish and perfectly prepared food and great presents which everyone receives with beaming smiles.  Although we all know in reality it’s not like that, the marketing hype inevitably gets to us.

2 children at the windowSo, how can we manage Christmas better particularly if we do not happen to belong to the perfect family?  I think that what people are really short of, despite the recession meaning that people are also short of money, is time and that instead of spending hours shopping for loads of presents or even buying our children lots of things, we should actually propose a different sort of Christmas where spending time is more important than having presents.  Most adults have far too much stuff and I think that can be said of children too, although they might not so readily admit it.

The message must be that if parents can work together in relation to the arrangements for the children, whether together or separate, it is in their best interests.  Try and manage everybody’s expectations so you do not end up being disappointed about the lack of perfection which is an artificial creation anyway.  Reality might actually be better.

Some key points to focus on if you are separated: –

  • Agree which parent will have access to the children and when.
  • Allow the children to be able to fully relax and have a fun time with only one parent, without feeling disloyal or missing the other parent.
  • Avoid any competition between you about the provision of presents and stuff generally.  Is the parent with a better job or a new partner able to give the children a better time?  Don’t go there!
  • Think about how you deal with the fact that there may be sad memories of past Christmases when you were all together.

Of course Christmas is a difficult time of year for all families, particularly post separation.  Perhaps the following might help: –

  1. Perfect the essential art of enjoying the now – becoming a human being rather than a human doing.  Perfection is, as we have established, impossible so just enjoy what and who you have.
  2. Count to ten or take three deep breaths and relax before responding to a wind up from your nearest and dearest in whatever form  – text, or even Twitter, Facebook e.t.c.
  3. Try and make up your mind that you are going to have a good time this Christmas whatever the circumstances leading up to it and plan ahead.  Having a schedule in place for when the children will be with each partner if you are separated will ease their anxiety and help any transitions between parents.
  4. Try and let go and have fun!

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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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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One size does not fit all

father and son on beachWe all know that we are all different and yet we are always faced with situations and circumstances that try and generalise and fit us all into the same box.  In divorce the court assumes a standard separation, a standard divorce, a certain way of dealing with children and money, but obviously everyone is different and there are peculiar circumstances that are unique to every family.  If a court system tries to deal with people’s needs as a process then inevitably all the various requirements of each member of the family cannot be met.

Collaborative law and Mediation are no panacea and cannot wave a magic wand, but this approach does try and address the particular needs of every separating couple and look at all the needs of their family.  There is always something unique, an elderly parent to care for, or a child that is having particular difficulties at school or a father that wants to work less and look after the children more.  The reason I am so passionate about collaboration and mediation is that it enables a unique approach to be taken, so we can focus on your particular situation, the unique set of circumstances that are pertinent to you and your family, whatever family means for you.

Family can mean same sex partnerships, adopted or step-children, grandparents.  One of the first cases I dealt with collaboratively was a couple both aged 67.  If the matter had gone to court then a normal solution would have been for the house to be sold and everything split 50/50, but the house had subsidence, so it couldn’t be sold, it had been the husband’s house for many years and meant a lot to him.  The wife had moved in with her new partner.   But during the course of the process it became clear that the wife was prepared to forgo her interest in the property and so received a lot less than she was theoretically entitled to, but she recognised the husband’s need to stay and the practical difficulties of selling a property with subsidence issues.

Sometimes one party will be convinced that the other is feeling a certain way, or more particularly not feeling anything at all.  When everyone sits round the table, the pain and discomfort and distress experienced by both parties is evident to both of them and they both realise that actually they are in this together and it makes sense to try and work it out together.

On other occasions there might be a disabled child which means that the parties are going to have to come up with a unique way of dealing with that child or the family home is also providing accommodation for an elderly parent.

At Cotswold Family Law we pride ourselves in taking the time and trouble to achieve a solution, or at least an outcome, that is best suited to your particular 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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