Do you have children? If so, their needs take priority in your divorce as far as the courts are concerned. So, whether your relationship with your soon-to-be-ex is amicable, explosive, or grey, you’ll need to find a way to put the children’s welfare first. In this blog, we’ll look at everything you need to consider when it comes to your children and your soon-to-be-ex.
Is your ex their parent?
If your soon-to-be-ex is your children’s parent too, then, unless there are safeguarding issues, your ex has a right to a relationship with them. And the children have a right to a relationship with both parents. If your ex is not their parent it is still important to think about the sort of relationship your children will want to have going forward.
If your soon-to-be ex has played a significant role in your children’s lives it may be traumatic for your children to no longer see them. Every family is different, but the guiding principle always needs to be about what’s best for the children, rather than your own preferences. Sure, it might feel easier for you to cut all ties. But if your children are not at risk and would like to continue contact, can you work an arrangement out together?
If you are not both parents this is not something the courts will get involved in, unless there are safeguarding concerns. But it is something a family mediator can help you discuss. You can explore working with a family mediator here. At the time of writing there are some free or subsidised services available to help families cope with lockdown.
Does your ex have parental responsibility?
If you were not married when you registered your children and your soon-to-be-ex isn’t registered on the birth certificate they will not have parental responsibility. This means there is no legal obligation to involve them in decision-making about your children’s upbringing. However, as we’ve discussed above, the most important consideration here is what’s in the best interests of the children.
You may not have a legal obligation to keep your soon-to-be-ex updated about your children, or to facilitate contact. But think about what your children want and need. If they have had a positive relationship with both you and your soon-to-be-ex until now, does that need to change? We’ll look at what to do if the relationship with your soon-to-be-ex is difficult in a moment.
Is your ex a narcissist or high conflict personality?
If you are in a high conflict situation you will need to tread carefully. Legally, children have the right to a relationship with both parents unless the courts decide there is good reason for this not to be the case.
If you find yourself co-parenting (or parallel parenting – you can read about the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting here) with a high conflict personality then the most important issue is boundaries. For both yourself and your children. It’s important to get arrangements in writing as much as possible. Tools like Our Family Wizard can help to ensure you get all the important details recorded, while minimising emotive contact.
If your children report any concerning behaviour after contact with their other parent, make sure you keep a note of it. The court will need details if you wish to instigate or amend a Child Arrangement Order.
Do your children have a poor relationship with your soon-to-be-ex?
Psychologists and researchers agree that it is in children’s best interests to have contact with both parents. More than that, it is preferable for them to receive care – including overnight stays – rather than have one parent as merely a visitor in their lives. You can read more on the research behind this here. The important exception, of course, is if your children are at physical or emotional risk.
So if your children are reluctant to see their other parent, listen to them. Try to understand what’s behind their concerns. And, as far as possible, try to facilitate a positive relationship. They might have felt the need to ‘pick a side’ when you separated. Assure them this isn’t the case, and that both of you still love the children 100%.
It might feel good for your self-esteem to know you’re the preferred parent. But in the long run it’s in your children’s best interests to get on with their other parent. The more people they have looking out for them, the better! And it’s in your best interests too. It means you can have a break.
So try to encourage contact if it is safe to do so. Start small if need be. Small successes will lead to bigger ones.
Make sure your children don’t hear you speak badly of their other parent. Whatever grievances you have, this is about your children. If they are being parented with care, even if it’s not exactly as you would do it, that is the priority.
Help your children remember key dates like birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Remember Father’s Day is coming up on 20 June! Even if the other parent doesn’t reciprocate in kind.
Do your children have a positive relationship with their other parent?
If your children get on well with their other parent and get on well with you, that’s great! The ideal scenario is that they appreciate each of you for your differences, and adapt to life doing ‘you things’ when they’re with you and ‘other things’ when they’re with their other parent.
Sometimes it feels as though the pendulum swings too far in the other direction though. They’re the perfect parent who can do no wrong. You’re the dull one, the nag, the one that never does anything exciting. The phenomenon of ‘Disney parents’ is all too familiar – the parent who does the mouse’s share of the everyday care but wows with presents and holidays.
I get that this is unfair and frustrating. I get that it hurts. But have faith. Your children do love you. Even if they don’t see it right now, what they’ll remember as they get older is the care and stability you gave them.
So don’t get drawn into competition with their other parent. Don’t try and provide shinier, more exciting trips or holidays (especially if it hurts your budget). And don’t go in the opposite direction – you don’t need to double down on your own way of doing things to prove a point either.
Stay in your own lane
In fact, don’t do anything with the other parent as your focus. Do it with your children and their needs as your focus. Be flexible. So if your rule is that you only have ice cream at weekends, but it’s blazing hot after school and the ice cream van pulls up – go for it.
Not because they had double scoops with their dad yesterday and you want to get even. Just because it feels right for you and the children now. Because you want to have fun. Because it suits you.
Stay in your own lane. Stay true to what you value for your family. In the long term, the children will appreciate you for it.
Need a safe place to vent?
Nothing is more emotive than parenting and divorce. It’s the number one cause of stress for most of my clients. And when you’re in the midst of it you need people around you who get it. That’s where The Absolute Academy comes in.
You get Q&A time with me to ask the difficult questions and figure things out. You get an amazing community of women like you – women who want to navigate divorce on their terms. You get access to Get Divorce Ready and a bundle of other resources to cut through the divorce confusion.
So whether you want to rant about your soon-to-be-ex’s latest, cry about something the children have said, or work out what your next step should be, The Absolute Academy is for you.
You can join us for around the price of an hour with a solicitor. The knowledge and support you’ll get in there mean you’ll probably save thousands off your legal bills. Find out more and join up here.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com