Often the primary concern for a parent is, “How will our break-up affect the kids?”.
The way in which you and your former partner choose to conduct yourselves following your separation, can shape the way your children feel about parenthood and relationships in the future.
Early legal advice from a Family Lawyer can be invaluable to ensure that you are aware of your options, but also know you are doing the right thing by your children, so that they can have a relationship with both parents.
It is almost a certainty that your children will spend half their school holidays, regular weekend time and special occasions with the other parent. The exception to this is if there are risk issues such as alcohol or drug abuse, or a risk of harm or neglect.
The Family Law Act 1975 promotes a meaningful relationship between parents and their children and it is common that the other parent will be involved in the children’s schooling during week days etc.
In other words, the Court considers that children should be able to have a significant relationship with both parents, even if your view is that your partner was never that “hands on” during your relationship.
Consider the practicalities of caring for your children and how that actual arrangement may look for your children.
For example, consider agreeing to purchase extra school uniforms so that children do not have to drag suitcases of clothes from one house to the other.
Arrangements should otherwise involve as little disruption to the children’s normal activities (for example, after school sport and social activities) as possible. If your child receives an invitation to a birthday party which falls on the other parent’s weekend, let the other parent know about it so the child can still attend.
Remain child focussed and resist the temptation to use the children as leverage with your former
partner or to use the children as messengers.
In the event communication between you and the other parent has broken down, we suggest keeping matters in writing, via email or text message. The content of your communication should also be focused on matters relating to your children and not include other issues such as property settlement or child support. Those types of topics should be covered in separate communication and not lumped in with an update about your child receiving an award at school.
Also keep your communication regarding your children professional and non-emotive. It is not uncommon for your communications to be attached to affidavit material in Court proceedings, so consider the possibilities of what may happen if you choose to “vent” your dissatisfaction at your former partner.
Consider doing a course on parenting or communication.
There are a number of programs available in our community which are designed to assist parents with managing their separation, in a child focussed manner. For example, the Mums and Dads Forever program, conducted by Anglicare. This is a program designed to assist parents in handling post-separation parenting and communication skills in a constructive manner. If you have young children, under the age of 5 and you need a bit of reassurance that you’re on the right track with your parenting style, then 1-2-3 Magic Parenting Program or Circle of Security Program might be good for you.
Do not leave any legal documents in a location which could be read by the children regarding your separation. This only exposes your children to parental conflict which is damaging to them, both emotionally and psychologically.
In the event you agree to an arrangement for your children, ensure that you stick to the agreement by being punctual for handover. Also ensure that your children have all items that they need for their stay at the other parent’s house.
In the event that any items have been left behind at your house, make sure that you promptly return those items to the other parent.
Remember that you are the parent.
Whilst children can express wishes concerning the time they might like to spend with a parent, their view may be based on their age, maturity (or lack thereof) and emotional development (which may include their perception of what would be fair, which is not necessarily in their best interest).
Children of a young age will express that they want their parents to reconcile and children who are aged between 8 and 12, may have a particular focus on what they consider to be fair, in terms of the time they stay with their mum and the time they stay with their dad.
If you are dealing with teenagers, both parents should show a united front. This may require you and your former partner to discuss having similar parenting styles in terms of discipline, boundaries and expectations.
Children in their teenage years often use the opportunity of separation to play one parent off against the other to achieve what they want. For example, engaging in anti-social behaviour or taking part in something they know that you, as a parent, would disapprove of.
If you have a new partner and you are considering having your new partner move into your residence to live with you during periods that you have your children, you may want to inform your former partner.
This type of information is better coming from you than from the children, and it also allows the other parent to prepare for the fact that the children are going to talk about your new partner, because they have been around whilst the children have been spending time with you.
It goes without saying that you should not have your new partner move in with you whilst you have the children if you have only recently met, or there are issues which your former partner may be able to raise such as a criminal record etc.
Fight the urge to say anything bad about the other parent, the other parent’s family or any new partners, in the presence or ear shot of your children.
You should also discourage any other person such as a family member, friend, new partner or acquaintance from speaking badly of the other parent, in front of the children or within ear shot of them.
Whilst you might not always feel it, your children look up to you and you are their role model.
If you are struggling to maintain any form of a civilised relationship with your former partner, consider the impact it is having on your children. If you fast forward 20 years into the future, what will your children say about this period of their life? Will they say it was “okay” or “it ruined my life”?
- How saying something less than tasteful about the other parent within ear shot of your children will make them feel. Will your words impact their view about you or the other parent?
- Whether your conduct at handover is as good as it could be? Do you say hello to the other parent?
- Whether you are managing your emotions in front of the children. You do not want to create a situation when you are using your children as a sounding board or they begin to parent you, as you are not able to function properly.