It is a fact of life that in most cases, when two people end their relationship, one or both are hurt, upset and angry. These are very strong emotions and are pretty normal and understandable. Where it becomes a problem is when these emotions are allowed to spill over and impact upon the children involved. I am frequently contacted by parents who feel they are in need of advice about something that their ex has or hasn’t done and how this affects their rights to have contact to children. Most have no intention of taking matters through the courts, it’s not something they can afford or even want to do. As an experienced family lawyer I know that except in serious circumstances, Court proceedings should really be seen as a last resort.
So, here are some things that I would suggest a parent could consider before calling a family lawyer:
- If you were still together, would you make an issue out of this?
Taking out the emotional feelings towards your ex, ask yourself honestly, if we were still happy and together would I really have a problem with what they have or haven’t done? If the honest answer is No, then having regards always to the best interests of the child should I really be making an issue of this now just because we have split up?
So, if for example they are always half an hour late bringing them back from a visit, and you know your ex is always late for everything and you lived with it when you were together, then unfortunately you may just have to live with it now. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them about it and tell them how much it inconveniences you, but it wouldn’t really be a good enough reason to prevent them spending time with their child.
Of course, if the answer is, ‘yes I would as I am not happy about this and think it will have a seriously detrimental effect on our child’ then maybe it would be useful to speak to a lawyer.
- Have you slept on it?
Everyone can be guilty of saying things they don’t really mean in the heat of the moment or the midst of an argument. Is it possible that something has been said or threatened but they don’t really mean it? Consider allowing a period of time for everyone to calm down and then have another conversation. It may be that the cooling off time resolves the issues all by themselves.
- Should you be more willing to compromise?
Trying to reach a compromise is always easier said than done but give it a try! At the end of the day, if you can both reach your own compromise that is close enough to what you originally wanted, that is always better than having someone else ie. a lawyer or a Court dictate to you when you will or will not have contact to your own children
- Is your child at risk of harm?
Has your child told you they are genuinely frightened of the situation? Has your child reported to you anything of a sexual or physical abuse nature? Has your child been injured? Has your child’s behaviour changed such as becoming withdrawn, crying, not sleeping, bed wetting? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’ you really should speak to a family lawyer as your child could be at risk of harm.
- Is your child No. 1?
When taking a step back from the situation, having calmed down and considered what it is that is really annoying you about the situation, ask yourself honestly, am I really putting my child and their best interests first? If I stop them from seeing their other parent will this really make my child happier or will it cause them more upset? Or, if I force this situation is this really better for my child or is it better for myself?
In all legal cases, the interests of the child are paramount. The child is Number 1 and their best interests will come first and that is also how all parents should approach each situation.
- Do you need an independent view to bring some perspective?
And are you willing to listen to advice? If appointed, a family lawyer will of course act on your behalf but it is also their job to see both sides of the argument and advise you if you are being unreasonable, within the eyes of the law. If, for example, you are trying to prevent your ex seeing the children because they have a new partner, this would probably be seen as unreasonable by a court, so your lawyer will tell you this too.
Getting advice from a specialist family lawyer is important – it can often put your mind at rest, reassure you that you are doing the right thing or in some cases is essential to prevent a child coming to harm. If, on reflection through the questions above you realise your ex isn’t really in the wrong it’s probably best that you agree a compromise and as always keep in mind what’s in the best interests of your child.
Divorce & family lawyer, Warwick