photo by Guian Bolisay via Flickr
Imagine the situation. Your relationship has just fallen apart and you are worried to death about money, the future and where you are going to live. Your ex is awkward and belligerent. Everyone’s feelings are terribly raw. But you are especially worried about the children and you want to make sure you do your very best by them.
I have acted for clients in situations such as these for more than twenty years and so I know only too well how hard relationship breakdown can be especially where there are children involved. Not only do the parents suffer but the children suffer too. So how can parents make things better for their children in the long run? Most parents would say they put their children first, they want to protect them, do what’s right for them, and so it is heartening to know there are positive steps that can be taken.
How to make things better for the children
Recent research (Goisis, Ozcan and Sigle, 2016) commissioned by the Ministry of Justice has shown that ongoing contact with an absent parent really does benefit the children in the long term so unless there are exceptional circumstances it’s all about encouraging and facilitating contact, making sure it happens and it continues to happen, and being positive about it because it really is the best thing you can do for your children.
Children who have contact with their absent parent are likely to have better outcomes in life including the ability to make better decisions and to be less impulsive, two characteristics which will, for example, make it less likely they will go on to abuse alcohol or drugs.
In order to promote these long term benefits a commitment by both parents to a routine of contact is the ideal. This might include weekly contact with regular staying contact together with the willingness to discuss arrangements for school holidays and special days such as birthdays and religious festivals.
It’s all about the long term
But the routine can sometimes be hard to keep to and the research shows that contact often tails off over time. Why does this happen? In my experience it can be because of a huge swathe of reasons – misunderstandings or disagreements between the parents, new relationships, increasing work commitments, financial troubles.
So how can contact be meaningfully continued, how can it be prevented from tailing off? If both parents are committed to working through the difficulties perhaps with the assistance of a lawyer or a mediator, this can help. But there may be changing circumstances which make continuing the routine in its established form impossible. If this is the case then I think it’s for both parents to try to be as realistic and flexible as possible, and for them to be prepared to change in changing circumstances.
If the established routine is no longer possible whether temporarily or permanently there can still be meaningful and beneficial contact. Contact can be less frequent but can still be regular, and it can be supplemented by a commitment to a routine of telephone calls or texts or Skype or emails. And the best approach is to agree a pattern of days and times otherwise the children will be waiting around wondering why they haven’t heard from their absent parent.
Is it quantity or quality?
Although contact between the children and the absent parent has proven benefits, no one knows exactly how much contact is the ideal amount. I believe what is important in the long haul is consistency in the contact routine, and the quality of the relationship. To put it simply, the children need to know when they will next see or hear from their absent parent, and they need to know that when they next see their absent parent, he or she will make every effort to focus on them and to make it a good and loving experience for them.
Is Court the answer?
Most parents manage to arrange things between themselves and indeed the research seems to suggests that parents who go to court about the matrimonial finances or the children do so at their peril, or rather the peril of their children. Apparently there is less contact between children and their absent parents where there have been court proceedings. But in my experience the vast majority of cases that end up in court only do so because the situation really is hopeless and no one is ever going to agree anything otherwise.
But does it have to be that way? If you are thinking of going to court and there is just the smallest glimpse of light, the merest slit of blue sky, the most outside chance that you could avoid it – wouldn’t you grab that with both hands?
How about mediation or collaborative law?
I can understand why you would think court proceedings are the only answer. But just take a moment. Maybe it would be better to try and agree something, even if it involves compromise on your part, even if you have to lose face on some of the issues. The sad fact is that there are rarely outright winners in family disputes but I can tell you there is always a degree of stress, worry and financial outlay in court proceedings, and the order that follows can often involve compromise. So why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the compromise. More and more people are using mediation and collaborative law to reach a non court solution, and it might be a lot better in the long run for your children.
In a nutshell:
- Contact with an absent parent leads to better outcomes in life for children
- Try to keep to a routine of contact
- Make sure that contact is positive, loving and child focused
- To prevent contact from tailing off be prepared to agree new routines and different forms of contact
- Compromise is often better than court, so try collaborative law or mediation
Did you manage to agree a good routine of contact for your children? If so, what do you think works best? We would love to hear from you with your experiences so please leave us a comment.
If you have found this post interesting please sign up below for new posts by email.
under a Creative Commons Licence
Link to Child outcomes after parental separation:
variations by contact and court involvement
JUST FAMILY LAW are specialist divorce and family law solicitors offering personalised legal solutions.
Visit our website just-family-law.com
Read the article