Any parent going through a separation will worry about the impact on the children. The information on these pages will give you a head start in considering the various issues you will need to resolve with the other parent. If you have unanswered questions, please use the enquiry form to contact me.
Naturally, you're going to be worried about the way your separation will affect the children. The way you talk to your children about it will have a real impact on how the children feel. It can help them feel safe, secure and loved by you both. It is easiest to manage this if you and your former partner can maintain a civilised working relationship. Your job is to support your former partner and minimise the conflict.
Children have a right to love both their parents. Your children are likely to be happier now and in the future if they have a good relationship with both their mum and their dad. Blaming one parent for the split will be confusing and difficult for your children. While your relationship with your partner might have finished, your joint role as mum and dad has not.
- If you can, tell your children about your separation together. This will help your children see that, no matter what has happened, you are still their mum and dad, that they can love you both, and that you will never stop loving them.
- Children will worry about how different life will be following the separation, such as where they will live, who with and how often they will see the other parent. Try to give them the answers as soon as you can and let them know that it’s OK to ask questions. Explain what is happening in ways that they can understand but without giving details of any dispute.
- Make sure that you reassure them that nothing is their fault and that they can do nothing to change the situation. Let them see that you are able to manage the adult issues and that they don't need to help your or feel responsible for what is happening.
- Different children will react in different ways. Whatever they are feeling, it’s important to let the, know that their feelings are normal and that they can always talk to you. Encourage children to talk about their feelings, including talking about the other parent, but don't question your child about the activities of the other parent. Don't ignore or dismiss children’s feelings, concerns or questions.
- Some children don’t want to talk. Let them know that you understand how hard this is for them and that you will listen when they are ready to talk. But don't assume that quiet or uncomplaining children are not upset – they still need reassurance and support.
- Keep to the usual routines and rules as much as possible - maintain consistency
- Give loving consent and encouragement to have a relationship with both of you
- Don't blame, judge or criticise the other parent or undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Don't ever involve the children in adult issues
Making arrangements for your children can be very emotional which makes it difficult to agree. Sometimes, simply a bit of time is needed to establish a civil working relationship in which the practicalities of child care can easily be discussed and agreed.
However, some couples find it difficult to agree even after a long while. If you still cannot come to an agreement then mediation or collaborative law may be able to help. These processes let you and your former partner talk through your problems together and work out solutions which are right for you and your family, with professional support.
In some cases, counselling can be very effective and you can attend together or separately. It can help to put things into perspective and make talking to your ex-partner easier.
Although there will be some families that need court assistance, issuing court proceedings should be a last resort.
The law sets out a checklist of factors the court must consider. This list is referred to as the “welfare checklist” and requires that the court must pay particular attention to:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his or her age and understanding)
- the child's physical, emotional and educational needs
- the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances
- the child's age, sex, background and any characteristics that the court considers relevant
- any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- how capable each of the child's parents is of meeting the child's needs
- the range of powers available to the court under the Children Act 1989 in the proceedings
The Children Act 1989 states that the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. This means that nothing else is as important - not even a parents feelings or interests.
If court proceedings are issued, parents may be asked to attend a Separated Parenting Information Programme (SPIP). This is not a course about 'how to be a parent’. It is about helping parents recognise the upset they may be causing their children without realising it. The aim is to support parents in finding ways of communicating without conflict and supporting their children who are suffering as a result of parental separation. This helps parents as individuals who are co-parenting their children to take responsibility for their own actions and words. It can support you in coming to your own agreements outside the court system.
Parents attend the course separately enabling them to speak freely about their situation. The discussion that takes place during the course remains confidential and is not reported to the court or the other parent.
Parental responsibility refers to the rights, responsibilities, authority and obligations that most parents have in respect of their children. It gives parents the legal basis on which to make decisions about a child’s upbringing including important decisions such as their name, which school they will attend and what medical treatment they will receive, what religion they will follow and whether they will relocate out of the UK.
Mothers always have parental responsibility for their child, unless the child is adopted by somebody else. Fathers who are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth also have parental responsibility.
For father’s who are not married to the mother when the child is born, other factors are relevant. If the child was born after 1 December 2003 and the father is named on the child’s birth certificate, he will have parental responsibility. If the child was born before that date, only the mother has parental responsibility, even if father is named on the birth certificate.
There are a few methods by which a father without parental responsibility can acquire it:
- by marrying the mother
- by obtaining a parental responsibility order from the Court
- by entering into a formal parental responsibility agreement with the Mother (this is a formal procedure requiring particular documents)
- by obtaining a Child Arrangements Order outlining where the child is to live (formerly a residence order)
- by being appointed as the child’s guardian