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Supporting Children Through Separation

April 5, 2023
Family Law

When a relationship breaks down it is a difficult time for the parties involved, with decisions to be made as to where each will live, and the financial implications of this, as well as experiencing their own emotions about the breakdown and sense of loss which can arise from the ending of a relationship.  The decision to separate is harder where there are children involved as, whatever the future arrangements are, it will have an impact on their lives too.  Whilst both parties are dealing with their own emotions and concerns for the future, it is important to acknowledge that the children will also be experiencing their own fears and emotions about their world changing around them.  

How can I support my child?

It is important to acknowledge that your relationship with your child is independent from that of the other parent and that, if your child has a good relationship with each parent, the child will benefit from continuing to have a day to day relationship with both parents. Studies have shown those children thrive better academically, physically and mentally, with a better sense of identity and self-esteem.  Even if your relationship with your ex partner is not good, your children need to feel that their needs are prioritised and that you are working together to maintain your relationships with them.

It is also important that you have support in dealing with your emotions about the breakdown of your relationship, whether that’s through counselling, online forums, literature or just having good friends and family you can talk to.  Anything that helps you come to terms with the situation will better equip you to support your child.  You may wish to talk with your GP if you feel your, or your child’s, health and wellbeing have been affected.

How should you deal with your child’s feelings?

Children will experience a range of negative emotions including fear, anxiety, loss and uncertainty.  These feelings are a normal response and should not be minimised.  Try to encourage your child to express their emotions as this will help them come to terms with the situation and promote their mental health.

You may notice changes in your child’s behaviour and it is hard seeing your child being upset.  Try to acknowledge their pain rather than feel you have to fix it as this will help your child feel more able to come to you to express their feelings openly, knowing that you will listen to what they have to say and be understanding, even if this is hard for you to hear.  It is important to reassure your child that it is not their fault that the relationship broke down as they may believe they are to blame. Your child should not feel they need to choose which side they are on, so do not speak to your child about the other parent in a derogatory way or apportion blame.  Attempts to alienate the other parent could harm your child’s relationship with the other parent or make them feel disloyal to you if they then express a wish to spend time with them.   Parental alienation is now recognised by the courts as a form of abuse and can be very damaging for your child.

Your child may also benefit from talking to a counsellor or another independent adult.

How can I keep a sense of normality through the changes?

As the parents move into two separate households and the children adapt to having two homes, try to keep some of their normal routine the same.  This might be their usual after school activities, visits to grandparents or maintaining their bedtime routine.  Whatever gives them a sense of familiarity and  shows them that not everything has changed.  If possible, keep the children at the same school or nursery and contact their support teams to make them aware of the change of circumstances.

How can I communicate effectively with the other parent?

Making arrangements regarding the children and when they spend time with each parent means the parents need to find an effective way of communicating with each other. Communication can be very difficult where there is conflict so this may work better via emails rather than face to face, or by using a parenting app. Parents should not use their children as a go between.  If communication between parents completely breaks down then family mediation is an option, where both parents can sit down with an independent mediator and talk through the issues.

What if an agreement for child arrangements cannot be reached?

If you are unable to reach an agreement regarding the arrangements for the children yourselves or through mediators or solicitors then it may be necessary to make an application to the court.  The court’s primary concern is the welfare of the children.  Whilst there may be conflict between the parents, it is important not to project this onto the children so they feel they have to choose a side. Depending on the age of the child, their wishes and feelings may be taken into account during the proceedings.

How can we help you?

Contacting a solicitor doesn’t have to be a last resort.  It is often better to seek advice early rather than wait until the relationship with your ex partner deteriorates to the point where things start to become hostile.  We can help you negotiate arrangements for your children either with your ex partner or their solicitor, whether independently or as part of divorce proceedings and negotiating a financial settlement.  We understand that you are going through a difficult time and will provide advice and support so you know the available options in order to make the best decisions for you and your child.  If a court application is necessary, we can assist with this and guide you through the process while keeping your children’s best interests at the centre, although we see this as the final option if all other avenues have been exhausted.

If you wish to discuss any of the issues or would like advice on your situation please contact Alison Cole, our Family Paralegal, to arrange a consultation by email : alison.cole@stevensdrake.com or telephone : 01293 596947.

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