Over the festive period I gave you a fictional scenario to think over. I described a family struggling to deal with divorce, and asked what advice you would give them to secure the best outcome for their children. Could the family share a happy Christmas together? How should Ed and Jane help their sons Charlie and Sam come to terms with their separation and be happy again?
We had a number of fantastic entries and I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to submit your thoughts. As the issues surrounding the case were very much related to children law, the Head of our Children’s Department, Stephen Hopwood, will explore the scenario and announce a winner.
It is also worth noting that a Government announcement made today concerning the rights of divorced parents to see their children would have a significant bearing on a case of this kind in the future– a move that contrasts with proposals contained in the Family Justice Review – but which I suggested should be done.
Although this is a fictional scenario, our children department at Stowe Family Law see cases with such difficult and complex issues each and every day. It can be easy to lose sight of how the children of the family are being affected when the parents have strong feelings against each other. It is our job to ensure that, whatever happens, the children’s best interests are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is vitally important to ensure that the children have proper parenting time with both parents. The advice of children lawyers must always bear this in mind and keep their client focused on this and not adult issues.
There was one answer that recognised this more than others: Carol Wright’s. Her response was family focused and accords very well with children legislation and the prevailing thinking about parenting. It also avoided the trap of allowing adult issues to impinge. Significantly, she spots that the situation is deteriorating fast and needs stabilising before there can be any improvement.
Carol considered that “the major issues will mean some serious compromise and good honest communication”. This is extremely important and in this situation we would seek to help the parties communicate for the sake of their children, despite how deeply they may feel they’ve been wronged. However, sometimes this can be the most difficult hurdle to overcome and therefore other third party professionals have to become involved such as therapists, mediators and counsellors. Ultimately, if the parents cannot make decisions for their children then a Court will, and its decision may not always be what either parent will want to hear.
It is indeed wrong to place children in a situation where either one of the parents is relying on the children emotionally, or even sometimes physically, if they do not realise they are doing it. This can cause emotional harm to the children and this must be avoided at all costs. The children need to rely upon their parents for support through a difficult and confusing time in their lives. They need to know that they are still going to have a secure home and upbringing. This is imperative when exercising parental responsibility.
There were hints within the scenario that perhaps the mother was trying to move away from the area to start a new life away from her estranged husband. This would be a valid reason if the circumstances of the marriage involved a fear of safety. In this scenario it could well be interpreted that the mother wants to move to punish the father. I believe Carol noted this when she said that: “The boys need to repair their relationship with their father or at least start to build bridges and ripping them away from all things familiar will not solve these issues”. Also, in order to help rebuild relationships between parents and children there has to be parenting time for both.
With regards to the new girlfriend, I agree with Carol that the father should not have introduced the children to her before the end of the marriage or at least until these confusing issues were resolved for the children. However, if Naomi does become a big part of the father’s life then the children will be introduced to her at some point in the future. But this has to be when the children are ready.
The children are going to be very upset about their parents separating and in order to do what is correct for them, the starting point has to be both parents taking time to provide reassurance. As Carol stated: “Above all the boys must be reassured that they are loved by both their parents, that the breakup is not their fault and things will be ok again.” Doing so will help them to deal with the separation and divorce in their own way.
Once again thank you to all who entered and Carol – we’ll be in touch to deliver your prize of chocolates and a bottle of champagne.
Stephen Hopwood is a child law specialist and Head of the Children’s Department at Stowe Family Law. He has been involved in aspects of child law for over ten years and has particularly advanced the concept and practice of joint residence. He has also been involved with cases with complex foreign elements, and specialises in cases that have become “bogged down” or “written off”.