All parents are worried about the effect on their children of divorce or separation. Ultimately, the family courts will make decisions in the interest of the children if parties are unable to agree, but it is always better for children to see that their parents have been able to work things out between them by putting the children first.
Of course, this is easier said than done when a relationship breaks down and emotions are high, but it is possible to share the care of your children. So I have pulled together some points to keep in mind when working towards a settlement involving children.
- Try to remember that you are still both parents of the children and they need you both. “What is best for the children in this situation” might be a useful mantra to repeat to yourself.
- Talk to each other – and to your children. If you are working with a family lawyer they’ll be able to help you find specialist support, for example from counsellors, able to help with the impact of the relationship breakdown on your children. Remember also that your lawyer will have had years of experience in just this type of situation and can often be very helpful with suggestions.
- Keep a diary which you and your partner can access (maybe keep it online?) where agreed dates for children being places can be kept and also who collects, when, how, where they are going, and how to contact in emergency are all stored.
- Accept there will be problems and misunderstandings but try to keep the “end goal” in sight of having the children grow up with a solid foundation of parents who care about them and who they can see can face and resolve problems in life.
- Don’t go to court unless all other avenues have been tried and exhausted and you simply cannot reach an agreement. It is expensive and tends to be a very blunt instrument for dealing with these issues.
It may also be useful to prepare a parenting agreement, setting out the arrangements and how you will conduct yourselves, with both parties signing it. This would include as much detail as the parties wish in order to avoid potential disputes in the future.
It might seem a little ‘touchy feely’ but actually setting out your intention to co-operate and be flexible for the sake of the children in writing, can be a very useful document to refer to if and when issues arise. If nothing else, re-reading it might serve to give both parties a few moments of ‘time out’ to reflect and thus take some of the heat out of the conflicts that can inevitably arise when co-parenting from different homes.