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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Why can’t we co-parent?


Co-parenting after divorce.

Co-parenting seems to be one of those latest buzz word that is pretty irrelevant to most couples – until that is they separate or divorce. Once a family is divided, by the fact that the two parents live apart, co-parenting takes on a whole new dimension and create so many challenges. Unfortunately I see the fall out when parents fail to agree about how they co-parent and it does make me wonder, what makes co-parenting so difficult?

Recent figures showing the number of parents that turn to the Courts to sort out parenting issues are shocking. In July 2015, Cafcass (the Court’s regulatory body for child services) received a total of 3,554 new private law cases. These are cases brought by a parent or family member who are asking the court to decide arrangements for where their child lives, how often then see the other parent or for specific issues about the child’s life or things which should be prevented. According to the statistics that a 23% increase on July 2014 levels. That’s 3,554 families in England & Wales asking for the Courts’ help for their children in one month.

It’s widely accepted that on separation everyone is very emotional. We all know not to argue in front of the children or discuss adult matters of finances, others involved, etc with them. So many people I speak to will say they are putting their children first, won’t involve them in the argument, will make sure their needs are met and yet somehow many people don’t manage to achieve this. 

Better communication makes for better parenting

It could be that you and your ex- just can’t communicate no matter how hard you try, or that one of you simply isn’t listening to the needs of the child or can’t place them above their own emotional needs yet. There are lots of reasons and circumstances. Some couples even with the best of intentions who can communicate and are ‘amicable’ cannot put a plan together for suitable arrangements for their children.

Misunderstanding over ‘custody’ causes conflict

I’m still trying to process how so many people (over 3,000 in June 2015 alone) manage to mis-communicate but perhaps it’s not surprising when the tabloids report with the words ‘custody’ and ‘access’ not used by the Courts’ for over 20 years. There are stories almost daily which refer to someone gaining or losing ‘custody’, which implies a winner and loser. There’s no such thing as custody. One parent doesn’t get more rights than the other. The courts only concern themselves with the arrangement for where the child will live and the arrangements for them to see the other parent. Maybe if the press made more effort to accurately reflect the fact that the courts will only concern themselves with what is in the best interests of the child we would have fewer parents wanting ‘sole custody’ or to exercise their ‘rights’ with regards to their children.

The other danger zone is the internet. When you can readily Google anything the danger is you don’t really know the reliability of source of the information or perhaps misinformation you may find.  There are some fantastic support groups out there for separated couples, grandparents, etc., but there are also scaremongers and conspiracy theorists whose ideas can be misinterpreted by those looking for an answer in the wrong place.

The key to successful co-parenting is communication, which includes listening as well as talking to one another, not ranting or making demands or threats, going off on tangents about peripheral details or seeking to undermine the other person, particularly not in front of the child. Communicate with one another but also get the right advice and accurate information so you can try to work together to reach an outcome which works best for your child, even if that means compromise on your part.

Of course, take advice from a family law solicitor if you have concerns about legal issues in connection with your children and want to get the facts, but do make sure they are an accredited member of Resolution, the organisation of family lawyers who are committed to a non confrontational approach to family problems.

Kimberley Bailey
Family law solicitor Bristol


Loading comments...

Excellent article Kimberley. Communication is key, as is having the right sort of information. Of course it is imperative that parents get the facts when seeking to establish child arrangements following separation.

The problem in many cases here in the UK is one of parent perception - as many parents still find it totally acceptable to use their child as a tool to beat off their ‘Ex’. In the absence of a framework conflict ensues.

Parental alienation is all too often at the heart of such conflicts, to a greater or lesser extent – it is an insidious form of child abuse that serves ironically in the longer term to alienate the child from the perpetrator. Yet, whilst there is an increasing awareness of PA, and some excellent articles by UK Barristers in the Family Law Journal, it seems that Cafcass lack training or awareness in this essential field, or even dismiss PA altogether. Latterly, this results not in ‘protecting the child’s best interests’ - but in condoning the abuse, by severing the child-parent bond with the alienated parent.

This can only have dire ramifications for both child and society, in both the short and longterm – and ignorance of PA is perhaps its greatest ally. You don’t have to look far via the internet to find stories of children failed by the Courts but happily reunited with their ‘non res’ parent in later years. Each case of this type represents a failing of our systems purporting to protect the child.

Ironically there are other countries that, for decades, have successfully resolved such conflicts without Court intervention by enshrining the norms of post separation parenting in Statute - based on ‘parent responsibilities’ and ‘quantum’ as a benchmark (ie. the sort of arrangements that good enough parents will agree in the median case). 

Sadly, for UK children, there are no such time-based guidelines in mainstream services and CAFCASS remains opposed to such, despite purporting to represent the child’s best interests. For decades it has fought off the time-based framework it needs, promoted by academics & family professionals, despite having nothing in place by way of substitution.

If I might make an observation;  you refer to Cafcass as the ‘Courts regulatory body’ - when in fact it is an ‘advisory’ body. The Judiciary consider Cafcass as it’s ‘eyes and ears’ and endorse ‘time-based’ recommendations of their reports in an estimated 95% of cases. Yet, OFSTED -  Cafcass regulatory body - admits that it continues to operate without time-based guidelines. Thus, it follows that such recommendations are based on whim.

But as you rightly point out, communication is fundamentally important to successful co-parenting.

This can be further enhanced and made even more successful if built on an understanding of continued ‘parent responsibilities’ and what the norms of quantum might be, thereby removing conflict and ensuring that children grow up being loved and cherished in two homes. The child would see that, although their parents no longer lived together, at least they were still able to get along – which relieves the burden of conflict from the child. To this end, the Court Service has published useful guidelines – ‘What the Family Courts expect from parents’ - which I offer to every client.

If such a child-centred framework was introduced early at mediation, or via collaborative law services, parents would doubtless be less inclined to litigate and more inclined to mediate.

The end beneficiary of parent communication is the child. 

By Kenneth Lane on Thursday September 3, 2015

Indeed Ken, it is so important that children grow up loved and cherished by both parents whatever the arrangements for each family for the children spending time with each of their parents.

By Kimberley Bailey on Tuesday September 15, 2015

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