In advance of Good Divorce Week 2021 (29 November – 3 December), Resolution has launched the ‘Parenting Through Separation’ Guide, which seeks to provide information and support to help parents through the challenges of parenting in the wake of a separation.
Resolution is a network of family justice professionals who are committed to working with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive and non-confrontational way. Each year, Resolution campaigns on an issue that is important to their members as part of an initiative called Good Divorce Week.
The Parenting Through Separation guide provides useful guidance on dealing with the difficulties of co-parenting often encountered by parents following a separation. As part of its advice, the guide provides a summary of the common reactions of children of different ages to parental separation, and how to deal with these reactions. For example, younger children may complain of mysterious pains, behave in an attention-seeking way, or behave younger than they are. Tips for how to help with this behaviour include keeping the child’s school informed, explaining the reasons for changes in the children’s lives, maintaining a routine, and reassuring them that they are loved and that the separation is not their fault. For children between 9 and 18 years old, children can be prone to reactions including taking sides, aggression and discipline issues, and feeling increased responsibility for younger siblings. Helpful parenting approaches to these problems are avoiding conflict in front of children, setting clear boundaries of appropriate behaviour, and encouraging a child’s friendships.
The guide also aims to help parents to understand the difficult emotions that come with the end of a relationship, such as loss and uncertainty. It takes the reader through the five stages of the loss cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance, and highlights the important of creating a divide between your personal separation journey and the new co-parenting journey to avoid conflict over the separation affecting communication and decisions about the children.
Further useful advice from the guide includes the ways in which parents can try to resolve issues relating to their separation and child arrangements. These are as follows:
- Direct discussions with each other: it is preferable to do this in a neutral setting and out of earshot of the children.
- Mediation: An independent trained mediator can assist both parents to work through disputes and reach an agreement together. You will still need legal advice for any agreement reached during mediation to be turned into a court order.
- Solicitor negotiation: Solicitors can negotiate with your former partner or their solicitor on your behalf.
- Arbitration: Solicitors can employ an arbitrator who acts like a Judge, making decisions on disputed issues. The arbitrator’s decision is binding on both parties.
- Court Process: If no solution can be achieved via the above options, you can make an application to the court. This process can involve several hearings and is likely to involve an assessment by CAFCASS.
If separated parents do have to consider the legal position in relation to their children, it is important that they are aware of the concept of parental responsibility, which is defined as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. This applies to everyday decisions relating to a child’s welfare and upbringing such as medical treatment, education, culture and religion, and the child’s name. Mothers will automatically have parental responsibility and a father will have parental responsibility if he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if his name appears on the child’s birth certificate.
The guide also sets out the factors that the court will consider when making decisions in relation to a child, with the child’s welfare always being the Court’s paramount consideration.
The full guide can be accessed here.