When I ask any separating parent what their priorities are, I almost always get the same answer – my children. All parents want the best for their children but often have different ideas as to what ‘is best’. These differences often create conflict in the family, with the child stuck in the middle. This is the last thing that either parent wants.
To make things worse, the court process is confrontational in nature; more often than not, conflict and bad feeling between parents is inevitable. How are you supposed to establish an effective co-parenting relationship after spending the last 6-12 months (or maybe longer!) attacking each other within the court process?
As I will explore later in this blog, there are other options. More and more couples are considering alternative processes for resolving disputes, such as Collaborative Law, Mediation, Arbitration and working with a Family Consultant.
Regardless of the approach you choose (and the best family solicitors will look for creative solutions that suit you and your family), there are ways you can resolve a disagreement with your ex-partner about what is best for your child.
Here are my top tips which all focus around ‘giving your child a voice’:
Before you speak to your child about how they are feeling, you need to acknowledge and accept your own feelings about the relationship breaking down. If you can’t put your own feelings to one side then you won’t be able to truly listen to your child. If you can’t keep your own emotions in check then how you communicate, whether verbal or simply a matter of body language, can influence your child and make them think that they have said something ‘wrong’. If this happens then they may not be able to share their true feelings with you.
Really listen to your child. This means listening to how your child views the situation without thinking about your own response. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and explore their point of view without jumping in with your own.
I am not suggesting that your child should call the shots, but it is important to try to understand how they are feeling. As parents, you can then bear this in mind when making decisions that impact upon them.
I also don’t advocate sitting your child down and asking them to effectively ‘choose’ between their parents – this is an intolerable burden to place upon a child. Ask open questions about how they are feeling and what you can do to help.
Reassure your child that their view matters and nothing they say will change how much you, or their other parent, loves them. Reassure them that their relationship with both parents is important and you are committed to making sure that they spend lots of time with each of you. Where possible, reassure them about anything that worries them. If you don’t have all the answers then be honest, but reassure your child that you and your ex-partner are working on it and keep them updated.
Choose the right process for you and your family
Court proceedings should be an absolute last resort to resolve disputes relating to a child as they have such a negative effect on the family dynamics. Fortunately, there are a number of dispute resolution models open to you if you can’t sort things out directly with your ex-partner, all of which have the best chance of long-term success if there is proper consideration of the voice of the child.
The table below provides details of the various dispute resolution models and how they can assist you depending on the level of the conflict between you and your ex-partner – and, crucially, how your child’s voice can be heard during this difficult time.