Andrew Weeden | McKenzie Friend in Cambridge and Ely
It can be very hard to detach feelings about separation, divorce and the life thereafter from dealing with issues in the family Court.
It is natural, for both parents to bring in their historic issues and want some kind of restorative justice. Unfortunately, in cases which involve children and shared care arrangements, the adults are a secondary concern to the needs of the juniors.
In cases which involve allegations of domestic violence or emotional and coercive controlling abuse, this adds to the complications and emotions are very raw.
It is important to recognise that the Court has limited time available to it for hearings. In those hearings, they must grapple with the facts and try to establish safe pathways which will shape the nature of the relationships that a child will have with their parents in the future.
If the family court is dealing with the bitterness and acrimony of separation, then it has less time available to it to devote to the needs of the children. Moreover, where complications involving poor communication and tension are involved, the judge is most likely to take a course of action which is deemed safest for handovers.
And undoubtedly, that could be to your detriment (or to the detriment of the non resident parent).
Better, if you are deeply affected by the demise of your partnership and former partner, that you seek some counselling to deal with the issues. Counselling is available at Mind|Space|Help.
If you bring unnecessary adult issues into Court, you are –
- Not necessarily being child focused
- Going to add more delay into your case.
That is not to say that your story is unimportant. It is important. To you anyway. It just needs to be channeled to a pathway appropriate for dealing with it. The family court should not be expected to be a social worker, counsellor and marriage guidance specialist.
When working with clients, the first thing I do is to let them get their story out. Once it has been told and is out of the mind, it can allow for clear thinking and a focused approach which looks for solutions ahead of problems.
Solutions are important. If the court and the judge is presented with solutions that all parties can live with, it makes it a lot more possible for shared care outcomes that will work without breaches, future tension and continuing acrimony.
Where genuine domestic abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, or more serious forms of physical and sexual abuse have been indicated in the case, the court has a process for investigating those allegations.
It is known as practice direction 12 J. It must be noted, that if Cafcass have recommended that practice direction 12 J is applicable in the case, the process will be much longer.
Delay is harmful to the child and to the non-resident parent as well as their relationship going forward.
Many domestic abuse claims involve a series of significant arguments before a relationship broke down. These arguments may have involved things being thrown about or doors being kicked, or some relatively minor infraction.
It is important to acknowledge whether this has directly impacted the children of the family, or whether it has been a series of awful exchanges between the adult parents.
Another difficulty to think of is that, through social media groups and rights of women groups, there is much commentary over the best way to win a case — and use of allegations of domestic violence are often put forward as case winners. This is not good. And if allegations are untrue, could be harmful to cases in reverse.
It has overwhelmed the court. And cases are taking so much longer. The serious harm is done to the children most, more than the adults. because of delay.
Advice from social media platforms is not your friend. Beware of dangerous advice that can seriously damage your case.
Children need structure and routine.
Children can handle living in separate houses with separated parents.
But one thing that is important to every child is continuity.
When a resident parent has stopped a child from seeing the non-resident parent, or where contact is sporadic and not regular, the child is affected more than anyone else. I urge everyone to take that point on board.
Children are not pawns in a game. They should not be used or weaponised by angry and bitter parents who are trying to score points with one another.
It is completely unacceptable and totally unfair.
And if only those parents, to which this applies, would stop, and look at the situation through the eyes of their children, they might make better choices.
It is never too late to look at things from the perspective of the child. In fact I recommend it in all cases.
Of course, a big part of the problem, and the underlying emotion in separated parents going through child arrangements orders, is fear.
- Fear of losing control.
- Fear of not being in control.
- Fear that one or other parent is going to be denied regular, healthy, contact with the children.
A child thrives best, with a good balance of both their mother and their father in their lives. As well as contact with their wider families and grandparents.
So, unless there is a credible concern of the non-resident parent being physically, emotionally, psychologically or sexually abusive towards the child, (or has a history of abusing the children), I urge resident parents to respect that the Children need both parents.
It is good for their development and needs.
When both parents can recognise this, and put aside the prejudices with one another, for the better interests and well-being of their children, the court can make more fair decisions. Decisions which are good for the child, and broadly good for both parents.
So don’t make it hard for each other. Don’t allow your children to suffer with the issues. Think about ways in which you can make it easier for the courts to come at fair conclusions which benefit all.