In the throes of a bitter separation, the temptation to take an ex to Court over everything from the holiday home to the dog can be strong. This 'Good Divorce Week', parties are reminded that when it comes to arrangements for children, judges are among the last people who should be getting involved.
"Good Divorce Week" is launched by family law association, Resolution. Whilst the concept of a "good divorce" may seem strange, the focus is on parties approaching their divorce with the aim of limiting the impact of any conflict on their children. The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, commented on Friday that too many parents are bringing disputes to Court when they have no need to.
Too often, children get caught in the crossfire of their parents' breakup when anger and resentment overflow into arrangements relating to the children. The failure of the relationship is sometimes used as a reason to suggest that the other person isn't able to parent properly – even in instances where they have done so for years. In other cases, parties use their children to try and score points against each other. The one who really loses out is the child in question.
During divorce proceedings, some parents can try to air their grievances and seek to inflict blows on each other via their lawyers. Whilst solicitors can assist in more complicated situations, or where there is a genuine impasse, this is an expensive way to ventilate parental disputes.
So what should parents do? Judges have been keen to communicate that parents are best placed to make decisions in the best interests of their children. Parents know their children better than any solicitor or judge and, if they can put aside their feelings about each other, are most likely to come up with arrangements that will genuinely work. There are limits to what judges can and will impose in disputes between parents. Few judges will be willing to get embroiled in arguments over what children should eat when they are with each parent, or how much TV they should watch, for example.
One of the most important things is to listen to the child in question. Children have a voice, and it should be heard from the start – as soon as possible, before there can be a question of it being polluted by any bitterness between their parents. This isn't a case of asking a child to choose between their parents, rather making sure that their views are heard.
If parents still need assistance, there are other routes available that don't involve going to Court. They can attend mediation, negotiate through a trusted third party or seek to resolve matters using family therapy. Reaching an agreement outside of Court leads to less bitterness between parents, significantly less cost and a much better outcome for any children concerned. Calling lawyers should always be a last resort.