The holidays are over and, for parents, this marks a new chapter in the year as their children move into the new school year – or to a new school altogether. Some face an additional challenge – relationship breakdown or separation.
Long summer holidays can cause stresses on some relationships. Others may have decided some time ago that they needed to tackle issues in their relationship, but resolved to get the holidays out of the way first. All these parents have to do their best to juggle these new starts for their children and themselves. How can they best do this?
Our experience is that if parents put children first – as family law requires – that’s the best possible start. National family lawyers’ association Resolution suggests that children need to hear the following key messages from both parents wherever possible:
- While the feelings we have for each other have changed, we will never stop loving you and being your parents
- We know this will be hard for you and we are sorry
- Just because we may be unhappy with each other, does not mean you have to be upset
- What has happened is not your fault – you did not cause this
- Divorce is a grown-up problem that you cannot change
- We will always be your parents and you can always love us both
- You will always have a family – instead of being a family in one home, you will have a family in two homes
- We will both continue to be a part of your life.
Resolution has also published detailed guides for separating parents which we are always happy to share with our clients.
It’s particularly important to try to insulate children from conflict between partners. In the 21st century, family law promotes constructive methods for resolving disputes, facilitating communication and trying to minimise conflict. In particular, collaborative practice (where specialist family lawyers and their separating clients work as a team focused on a positive outcome for the whole family) and mediation (where a neutral third party facilitator aids communication and negotiation between ex-partners) are supportive and positive processes.
Family lawyers can also signpost their clients to specialist counselling services such as Relate and others where necessary. So if you’re in this situation, you’re not alone.
It’s best not to rush important decisions without taking specialist legal advice first. A change of school? A house move? These are vital issues which can have long-term implications. In any case, significant issues regarding children’s welfare and upbringing require the input of both parents with parental responsibility.
Experienced family lawyers understand the benefits of a child-centric approach in reducing conflict, and will do all they can to advise and support their clients in the decisions they face.
It’s possible to agree flexible and creative childcare plans for separated parents. We’ve acted for large numbers of people who we’ve assisted in achieving successful shared care arrangements, both short-term and long-term.
Of course, the issue of money looms large when a couple separate. Early advice from an expert family lawyer will always help understand the family’s financial needs and how they might be met with the resources available, in order to plan a sustainable and realistic long-term future.
It’s also beneficial to consider child support, and ideally plan a mutually acceptable level of payment by one partner to the other for the children, rather than relying on the blunt instrument which is the Child Maintenance Service’s mathematical calculator, which is simply based on the gross income of the payer and takes no account of his or her outgoings or the circumstances of the other parent.
Another important issue (for married couples or civil partners) is how best to bring their legal union to an end. For decades we’ve worked with separating people to navigate through the maze of the ‘blame game’ which is current divorce law. A couple may only divorce or dissolve their partnership by making allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour unless they’ve been separated for at least two years and both consent to rely on that.
We’ll continue to guide our clients in a way that ensures the other party fully understands that this process is a means to an end, and must not become an area of dispute in itself. But better times are on the way.
It looks inevitable that we’ll have a new divorce law whereby no allegations have to be made, and that really is good news – but we can’t yet say when the law is likely to change. We’re ensuring that our clients fully understand their options under current and future laws, and are able to make informed decisions. For them and their children, that really is the best possible new start.