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During divorce, one of the most difficult issues is often dealing with children matters, both in terms of issues around matters such as contact, finances and maintenance, and also in terms of helping them come to terms with the end of the marriage.
The end of a marriage or relationship does not affect either parent’s legal rights regarding the children, and each parent will still retain ‘Parental Responsibility’ for the children. To clarify what parental responsibility is, it is a legal term to describe the rights and duties that parents have towards their children. When a child is born the mother automatically has parental responsibility. The father also does if he is married to the mother at the time of birth in the case of children born after 1 December 2003 or if he registers the child’s birth with the mother. Parental responsibility can also be achieved by a formal written Agreement or Court Order.
Dealing with Children and Divorce
When divorce happens, children often feel that it is their fault or is the result of something they’ve done. It is important to reassure children that the divorce is not their fault and that sometimes relationships between adults simply do not work out.
Childcare experts agree that it is important to keep your children informed at every stage of your separation or divorce but at an age appropriate level. Make sure that your children feel they are being listened to, even if they are too young to fully understand what is happening. They do not need to know every detail, and should be protected from dispute as much as possible.
Tell your children what is happening to their family, it's better for them to know. Encourage them to ask questions and try to give them honest and reassuring answers, but don't promise what you cannot deliver. If something is not yet decided, then say so and reassure them that you will tell them as soon as you can.
Allow your children to be upset and show emotion; say that it is okay to cry and don't make them feel guilty about showing affection or concern about their other parent.
Children are entitled to have a relationship with both of their parents whether the children live with that parent or not. It is important that each parent supports their children to enjoy a positive relationship with the other parent and to ensure that the children are able to spend time with both parents where it is safe and appropriate to do so. It is important for children not to be exposed to continued conflict which can often be harmful for them.
In cases where one parent moves out, it is best to discuss contact arrangements for that parent to see the children as early as possible. The move will inevitably be disruptive for the family and so a clear plan for when the non-resident parent sees the children will make things easier moving forward, even if this is only temporary until more permanent arrangements can be decided.
Stability (routines, schools, club times etc) is important while you and your family make the transition; be especially sensitive if a particular activity was usually linked with one of the parents - encourage your children to keep doing the things they like to do, but don't force them.
Separating or divorcing couples should try to avoid asking the child who they want to live with; it can place a lot of pressure on the child who may feel they are being asked which parent they love more.
Older children may become resentful and even aggressive to one of the parents , especially if they feel that one parent is to blame - try to understand this but don't let it have a negative impact on the relationship between the adults or encourage children to take sides. Even if you feel angry towards your partner, you must not to let this boil over into physical or verbal violence - children can suffer physical and psychological damage if they see fighting and may be permanently affected.
Don't use your children to negotiate or to take messages for you and don't ask them to keep secrets or give you information about your partner - it's not fair to them and it may make them feel unhappy
Reaching a Final Agreement
It is important to try to resolve conflicts between parents early; there are charities and some very good organisations who can provide counselling and mediation services - the longer you leave a problem unresolved, the worse it can be for your children, especially if the conflict is about them.
The Courts are more and more often seen as a last resort in cases such as these, and more individuals are looking to resolve children matters through mediation. This is a less formal and less stressful approach to Court proceedings, and involves both parties attending a meeting with an impartial mediator to try to reach a resolution on matters concerning children. To find out more about Mediation, how it can help and our Family mediation service click here
Please be aware there is now a requirement of the Court before issuing proceedings that parties must demonstrate that an attempt was made to settle the matter through mediation, even if the other party does not attend. This will only be waived in circumstances where it is clear that mediation is not appropriate, such as significant previous domestic violence.
It is always preferable for children matters to be agreed between the parents as much as possible outside the Courts, be this in direct negotiations, through solicitors or through mediation. In more serious cases, issues around residence and contact with the children can be decided by the Court, however this is almost always a stressful experience for both parents and can often make relations between parents worse.
In addition, the cost of Children Court Proceedings can be significant, and as of 1 April 2013, there was no longer be Legal Aid available for the majority of cases of this type. Separation and Divorce will often have an influence on the family’s financial situation, and is generally the last time that either parent wants to be incurring legal costs.