The breakdown of a relationship, or marriage, is an emotional time and it is important to remember that even though the relationship has ended between the adults, their role as parents has not stopped. Separation and divorce can be a challenging and upsetting time for all involved, but although there may be a lot going on, it is important to make sure the children get the support they need.
Just knowing how to tell children about the separation can be a challenge in itself. It is important to think about where and how to talk, so that children will listen. The first thing to consider is where and when you are going to start the conversation. It probably is not a great idea to have it in the evening when they are tired and might not be in the mood to concentrate. It could be beneficial to have, what is likely to be a difficult chat, in a relaxed and neutral place, like on a walk or a bike ride, or even when you are in the car. You could also ask other parents you know who have separated, how they created the right situation to talk about this difficult topic and see if it would work for you too. The link below is a helpful guide to talking about difficult topics.
Unfortunately, more often than not, separation will involve bad feelings between the parents. Children pick up on this, which may make them confused or unhappy and can even result in them blaming themselves for the break-up.
It is common for children to find it more difficult to open up and talk to one, or both parents and even someone within the family, about the separation, therefore it is important to ensure that they are aware of third parties to whom they can talk, such as teachers, school pastural support and even ChildLine.
Ensure they are offered help with their worries, such as:-
- Remind them that they are loved by both parents
- Be honest when talking about it, but keep in mind the child’s age and understanding
- Avoid blame. Don’t share any negative feelings the adults have about each other
- Keep up routines such as going to school and specific meal times
- Let them know they can talk about their feelings with you. Explain that it is okay to be sad, confused or angry
- Listen more than you speak. Answering questions will help them to open up.
With separation comes the question and difficulty about with whom the children should live and how much time and how often, they see the other parent. Children do best when they continue to maintain a good relationship and have regular consistent contact with both parents.
Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states ‘Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests’.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible for agreement to be reached amicably between parents particularly, during an emotional time, when often bad decisions are made, or our thinking and judgements can be a little cloudy. Where the relationship between the parents has completely broken down it may be that the assistance of the Court is required.
Matters regarding children are dealt with under the Children Act 1989. There are two main principles to this Act. Firstly, that the child’s welfare is paramount and secondly, that if no order is necessary, then no order should be made. Therefore, the Court would wish matters to be agreed between the parties before resorting to the Court to resolve matters.
For this reason, before you can make an application to Court with regards to children matters, the Court requires you to attempt to agree matters by way of mediation. Therefore, it will be necessary to attempt mediation before you can issue Court proceedings.
Where no agreement can be reached and an application to the Court is required, a dispute between parents of children, or other relevant parties with regards to children, are usually resolved by one of the following Orders:-
- Parental Responsibility
- Child Arrangements Order – being an Order as to where the child shall live and how often and for how long the non-resident parent should have contact with the child
- Any specific issue such as regarding schooling or religion
- Prohibited Steps Order – stopping one party from doing something in regard to the child that they should not, such as changing the child’s surname or removing them from the resident parent’s care.
If asked to make a decision the Court will base its decision on the following factors:-
- Ascertaining the wishes and feelings of the child concerned in light of his/her age and understanding
- The child’s physical and emotional needs
- The likely effect on them of any change of circumstances
- Their age, sex, background and any characteristics of which the Court considers relevant
- Any harm which they have suffered or is at risk of suffering
- How capable each of the parents and any other persons in relation to the child the Court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs
- The range of the powers available to the Court
If your relationship or marriage has broken down and you’re in need of legal advice to protect the best interests of you and or your children, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team for friendly and professional advice.