The impact of the removal of Legal Aid in most family law cases – notably divorce – is having far-reaching consequences, as we have regularly discussed in this blog. However, what is emerging is just how much it is affecting young parents and, particularly, young dads struggling to get the right advice to steer them towards a workable, long term solution to their relationship troubles, and most importantly their relationship with their children.
Unless young parents have good family and friend support networks it can be difficult to obtain objective advice about relationship breakdown without easy access to free or affordable legal services. Separating parenting from a relationship is very difficult and the result is young people often ‘boomerang’ in and out of relationships that are destructive as they attempt to maintain contact with children. No relationship can often equate to no contact and the claim from a partner: “If you don’t love me, you don’t love our baby.” In some ways, this is understandable from a vulnerable mum who may want to cling on to the relationship or protect herself from emotional hurt by stopping contact yet all it achieves is a destructive “on-off” arrangement for everyone, especially the children.
Staying in a destructive relationship can lead to fractures within the wider family, domestic violence and police or social services involvement with the family, all of which make establishing or retaining contact with a child even more problematic in the longer term, not to mention it making for an unstable home life in the short term. It is difficult for either parent to move on because both are tied to a ‘half’ relationship which often produces more children and puts even more pressure on the young family.
In cases where parents, particularly young dads, are overwhelmed, contact can stop completely, sometimes for years. This is desperate for dad, very sad for the child and hard work for mum. Re-establishing contact then is a tricky business for all involved.
Early independent family law advice on options as well as rights and responsibilities can help break this cycle and ensure children’s needs are put before relationship difficulties. The right legal advice at the right time can focus both parents on the future and encourage agreement on co parenting and, if this is just not possible, the Court can resolve difficulties by means of a child arrangements order before children lose touch with a parent.