Many reading this will know that shared parenting can be difficult! we turned to Lisa Smith from Woolley & Co to set out some helpful tips…
…without exception all my clients, however bitter the break-up and however hostile they might feel towards their partner, are worried about the effect on the 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.
Easier said than done perhaps when a relationship breaks down and emotions are high but it is possible to share the care of your children, it is not always easy however and there are a few key points to keep in mind:
1. TRY TO REMEMBER that you are still both parents of the children and that the children need you both. “What is best for the children in this situation” might be a useful guide to remember when perhaps tempted to respond to a partner who might be doing everything they can to annoy you!
2. TALK to each other and especially 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. But your lawyer will have had years of experience in just this very situation and can often be very helpful with suggestions.
3. DIARY. Keep a diary which you and your partner can access (maybe keep it on-line?) where agreed dates for children being places can be kept and also who collects, when, how, where are they going and how to contact in emergency are all stored. This will really help keep avoidable problems to a minimum.
4. ACCEPT that 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.
5. DON’T go to Court unless you have to. It is expensive and tends to be a very blunt instrument for dealing with these issues. Obviously we’d all be in Court immediately in the cases where our children need protection but in most cases discussion and restrained negotiation are best. And don’t use the children as pawns, they do realise later and react against it.
One of the things I suggest to my clients involved in disputes relating to children, or those in the early stages of separating is that they prepare a Parenting Agreement setting out the arrangements and both parties sign it. This would include as much detail as the parties wish in order to avoid potential disputes in the future and also draft in a ‘Statement of Respect’ tailored to the situation.
Sample Statement of Respect
Neither party will denigrate or demean the character or behaviour of the other in the presence of the children, but will refer to the other parent with respect.
1. We will share in both the joys and the burdens of raising our children as we share in the decision making processes related to their health, education, religious training, recreational activities, and general well being.
2. Although there may be disagreements between us, we will not permit them to be inflicted upon our children. We acknowledge that we are both good people who are simply unable to live together. We believe that every child should have in his or her mind an image of two good parents, and we will work toward that end.
3. We will leave our children free to love and respect both of us. We will not discuss the shortcomings of the other parent in front of the children, nor permit others to do so.
4. We will work toward maintaining a friendly relationship and will try to be considerate of each other’s feelings and concerns.
5. We will not use our time with our children as an excuse to continue arguments between us.
6. When either of us is with our children, we will be discreet if we are including others with whom we may be involved.
7. We will make the period of time with our children a normal experience. Every time we are together does not have to be “Disneyland” for them.
8. In planning time with the children, especially as they become older, we will be sure to consider their needs and wishes.
9. We will make the time with our children as pleasant as possible by showing our interest in their activities and avoiding questions regarding the activities of the other parent. Also, we will not make promises to them unless we know that we can keep them.
10. Each parent will notify the other as soon as possible if he or she is unable to keep the agreed upon schedule, as failure to give notice is unfair to the other parent and the children.
11. Neither parent will schedule activities which conflict with the other parent’s custody, however, if one parent has plans for the children that are conflicting, and these plans are in the best interests of the children, we will be adult, and arrive at an agreeable resolution.
12. The parent with whom the children have’ just been living will prepare the children both physically and emotionally for spending time with the other parent, and have them available at the time agreed upon.
13. We will acknowledge and respect any differences we have in our parenting techniques and attempt to reconcile those differences, as we work together for the best interests of our child.
It might seen a little ‘touchy feely’ but actually setting out your intention to co-operate and be flexible for the sake of the children in writing, and both signing it, 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 ‘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.
Written by Lisa Smith, divorce lawyer with Woolley & Co, Solicitors based in Bedford. Lisa works with many separating parents, priding herself on providing practical advice based on a thorough understanding of a client’s situation. For more details visit www.family-lawfirm.co.uk.