A Guide for Separated Parents at Christmas

With 10 sleeps until Santa comes (as I was so excitedly told by my boss when I arrived in the office this morning!) our thoughts turn to friends, family, fizz, gifts, fizz, selection boxes, presents and of course, fizz! Christmas is usually a time for family, especially children. But, for separated families, it can be a time of increased pressure and unhappiness. You may find it incredibly hard to be away from your children for even a few hours on Christmas day but here are some helpful hints and pointers (from the centre for separated families) which may help make the day, and the rest of the holidays, a little easier for everyone. Maybe not for all, but fingers crossed.

If your children will spend time with both of you
Try to agree, as early as possible, how your children will spend time with each of you. It isn’t important that they spend exactly the same amount of time with you both. What’s important is that the time is as relaxed and enjoyable as possible. Think about how it may be possible for your children to spend some quality time with both of you that allows everyone to get something of what they would like.

Make any hand-over as easy as possible
If your children will be spending time in two places, make sure that the transition is as simple as possible. The last thing your children want is to see their mum and dad arguing. Agree when, where and how your children will move between you. Stick to your agreement and contact each other if there needs to be any changes. If seeing each other is too difficult, think about people who may be able to help at hand-over such as grandparents or friends.

When time with both of you isn’t possible
If it is not possible for your children to spend time with both of you on the day, try to think about ways that you can share the celebration with your children at another time and make that as special as possible. A phone call on, or a special letter for the day can help children feel connected and reduce any anxiety. If your children’s other parent doesn’t seem interested, might it be possible to encourage them just to send a card?

Don’t compete over presents
Some separated parents find it possible to share present buying and giving. However, for many, this isn’t realistic. If you are buying presents separately, try to agree who will buy what. It can be very difficult if one parent has more money than the other. So try not to compete over who will buy the biggest or the best present – it just isn’t in your children’s best interests.

Think about extended family
Try to make time for grandparents, aunts and uncles if your children are used to seeing them at Christmas. If it is too difficult to spend time with them, then a phone call will help everyone stay in touch.

Think about new partners and other children
If there is a new partner in your life, think about how that will affect your arrangements. How will your children feel about that? How will your new partner feel about it? How will you children’s other parent feel about it? What about step-siblings and half-siblings? Try to find a way forward that means that as little friction as possible. But be honest about what you want, too.

Don’t require your children to make the decisions
It is important that children, especially younger ones, are not required to make decisions on your behalf. Talk to all the adults involved, talk to your children if they are old enough, decide what is best and then tell your children what has been decided.

When you are unable to see or contact your children
Being prevented from seeing or contacting your children, for whatever reason, is usually a very painful experience. Times of celebration can be especially difficult. Many parents in this position find their own way of marking the occasion. It can be helpful to try and make contact with other parents in a similar position as a way of offering and receiving support. If you are unable to buy your child a present or show them that you are thinking about them, you may wish to consider buying a different kind of gift. For example, you can name a star, adopt an animal, plant a tree or make a donation to a charity on their behalf.

Look after yourself
Christmas for separated families can be an emotionally difficult time. Not only for children, but for parents as well. This may be your first Christmas without your children or without your husband, wife or partner. Take some time to think about how you might feel and then think about ways of coping. If old traditions are too painful, create some new ones. If you won’t have chance to see your children, write a letter and raise a toast to them. If you are going to be on your own, with or without your children, think about whether you might spend some time with friends or relatives.

So hopefully some of this advice will be useful. No matter what, have as nice a day as possible. Get stuck into the big box of Quality Street (it’s Christmas so chocolate is allowed as soon as you open your eyes!), have some fizz (did I mention that?!) followed by a wee snooze before the last ever Downtown Abbey! And from all of us at MTM Family Law, Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2016.

Please note our offices are closed from 12 noon on Thursday 24th December 2015, until 9am on Tuesday 5th January 2016. If you require urgent family law advice during this time then please email us on general@mtmfamilylaw.co.uk.

Don’t Stay Together For The Kids

The following is an extract from the Herald on Monday 23rd November 2015 referring to a survey undertaken by ComRes, commissioned by Resolution and supported by Consensus Collaboration Scotland. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but the heading tells you the conclusion so no need to read any further from here really, unless you are particularly interested and want to know a little bit more! But this new research does tell us that unhappily married parents who stay together ‘for the children’ may not be acting for the best, and that children tell unhappily married parents: don’t stay together for the kids.

“A poll of young people aged 14-22 who had been through a parental separation or divorce, found a large majority (82 per cent) said that even if they had been upset at the time they felt it was ultimately better that their parents split rather than staying together unhappily.

The research also found that children and young people want greater involvement in decision-making during the divorce process.

However half of young people (50 per cent) indicated that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live (49 per cent) following their parents’ separation or divorce. While this needs to be carefully handled – 88 per cent of young people said it is important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between their parents – but nearly half (47 per cent) of children and young people polled said they had not understood what was happening during a parental separation or divorce and would have liked to know more. Nearly two thirds (62 per cent) felt they had played no part in any of the decision making process about the separation.

However many common concerns about the impact of family break up on children, were not borne out by the findings 50 per cent of young people agreed that their parents had put their needs first during a separation or divorce and only two in ten (19 per cent) had felt – or been made to feel – that they were in some way to blame for the domestic breakdown. Asked what advice they would give divorcing parents, one young person said, “Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms”; while another said children “will certainly be very upset at the time but will often realise, later on, that it was for the best.”

While most young people preserved good relations with their mother and wider family members following a break up, their relationship with their father worsened for nearly half of all children. Some 45 per cent said their relationship with their mother had improved, but only 19 per cent said their relationship with their father had improved – against 46 per cent who said it deteriorated.

Parenting expert and author Sue Atkins says: “Children want to feel involved and empowered with relevant information about their parents’ divorce and what it means for them. They also want to see their parents behaving responsibly, such as to not argue in front of them.

“As the long distance parent, dads must work hard to maintain their relationship with their child. They may feel angry that this task falls on their shoulders since they may not have initiated the divorce in the first place and it’s easy to feel like a victim and spend their time and energy blaming their ex. But being a long distance parent doesn’t mean that a dad has to automatically disappear from their child’s life.”

CO-PARENTING RULES FOR SEPARATED OR DIVORCED PARENTS

Whilst people may become ex-spouses or ex-partners when they separate, they do not become ex-parents. They need to try to become co-parents and get along better than when they were married or when they  lived together.
As parents you share responsibility for your child. You have a duty to talk to each other and make every effort to agree about how you will bring your child up. Even when you separate, this duty continues. You need each other to parent effectively. Co-operation, however difficult, is essential.

Here are some rules to remember:-

1.    Never say negative things about the other parent to the children or in front of the children.

2.    Never let your family, friends or others say negative things about the other parent to the children, or in front of the children. Be alert to the fact that children are sometimes listening to you on the phone and you may not be aware of that.

3.    Do not speak to each other in inflammatory ways either in person, by telephone or by text, and do not “wind” each other up deliberately. Provoking the other parent isn’t helpful. Again, children can be listening even if you’re not aware of this.  It can be useful to imagine your children in the room when you require to communicate with your ex. Some people have said that they have found it helpful to visualise their child’s face in front of them or visualise the child in the room.

4.    Exchange pleasantries in front of the children, no matter how difficult this may be for you, particularly at contact pick up and return times. It can help assure children that it is OK to spend time with both parents and to chat to either parent without upsetting the other.

5.    Never discuss disagreements or conflicts in front of the children.

6.    Agree a strategy or process for constructively discussing any issues which arise.

7.    Improve communication It is in the best interests of the children that you, as parents, can communicate effectively together.  Some suggestions are to set agreed times for communicating with each other, by telephone or in person, and avoid telephoning, texting, emailing etc at other times (unless there is an emergency or a real and genuine issue which requires to be dealt with immediately).  If you are going to meet up to discuss matters, try choosing a neutral venue, without the children being present. Or if that’s not possible, perhaps the parent who has the children during the agreed communication time could initiate the call. If you agree a time, stick to it – although please be mindful that events outwith your former partners control CAN happen! Answering machines, mobile phones, texting and voicemail may be helpful in communicating essential information.  Don’t message constantly though strike a balance.

8.    Share important information (such as medical information and school events) and agree common rules for bedtime, TV, discipline etc for your children. Online calendars to which both parents have access and can enter date and event information can help coordinate the arrangements for the children, and ensure there is less scope for confusion about who should be where and at what time. This can cut down on stress and ensure each party knows when they are shouldering the responsibility of the football run, swimming, gymnastics, parties etc.

9.    Attend events for your children together when possible. You do not have to be best friends, but your child will benefit from seeing his/her parents together behaving civilly to one another.

10.    Respect the other parent’s parenting style, even if this differs from you own.  Accept that if the other parent does things differently from you, this may not be exactly how you would like it done but it may just be “good enough”. Although one parent’s parenting style may be different, both parents should still agree common rules for bedtime, discipline etc as above.

11.    Make your children’s needs more important than your needs (for example, be flexible so as not to interfere with children’s school and social activities) and be willing to give up some of “your” time to make these things happen.

12.    Help your child understand Your child needs to understand what is happening to their family. It is your job as mum or dad to explain. Your child should not be made to blame himself or herself for the breakup. Don’t help your child turn against the other parent because they think that is what you want. You can help your child think about how he or she feels about the breakup. Listen to what your child has to say about how he or she is feeling, and about what he or she thinks of any arrangements that have to be made. Involve your child if they are old enough, but don’t place the burden of decision making on them – that is your job to decide with the other parent.

13.    Respect the other parent’s time with your children. Part of this is to always be on time and five minutes early if possible.  Never leave children on the doorstep.

14.    Any changes in the schedule must be discussed with the other parent first before informing the children.

15.    Do not place children in loyalty conflicts.

16.    Do not quote what children may have said to or about another parent.

17.    Do not accept what children say about the other parent as accurate without checking with the other parent.

18.    Do not let solicitors and courts make decisions about your children that you should make as parents.

19.    Take responsibility for following these rules even if the other parent does not.

20.    Move Forward. Leave the past behind.

Putting “The Spark” Into Your Relationship

Putting “The Spark” Into Your Relationship

Relationships. They’re great. Well, most of the time! Ok, most of the time when the going is good. But they can also be really hard work sometimes! Having just come back from the launch of “The Spark” it made me realise that no one actually tells you how difficult a relationship can be. Not just a relationship with a partner or spouse, but all sorts of relationships can have their ups and downs – relationships with parents, siblings, colleagues, and employers to name just a few. (Luckily I have lovely colleagues and bosses and as they check the content of my blog before it goes online I feel I better be clear about that!) And its not just me who thinks that you need to work at a relationship: a huge number of people are calling the Relationship Helpline (tel 0808 802 2088) for different sorts of advice in all sorts of relationships.

When “The Spark” first started out as Scottish Marriage Care in 1965 they provided marriage guidance only. But times have changed. Now, “The Spark” offers telephone support and online counselling so that regardless of geography, people all over Scotland can access counselling services. Services cover every stage in relationships from the first flush of romance through to support for new parents, coping with teenagers, all the way through to relationships in later years. Help is available for those in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. You can get additional information online at www.thespark.org.uk. They are the relationship experts.

Should you consider seeking relationship support before deciding to separate or divorce? It won’t be appropriate in all cases, but it could help. Some people I’m sure will find the word “counselling” off-putting. Maybe if you know someone who would simply benefit from a chat about what’s going on in their life, it might be more appealing for them to think of it in that way. I’m not on commission from BT but “it’s good to talk”! Actually, whilst it is good to talk, you don’t even need to speak to anyone face to face – you can just pick up the phone or simply go online in your lunchbreak or when the kids are in bed.

Hopefully “The Spark” might help. Its worth a shot if it’s appropriate in your case. But if not, and you need specialist family law advice for a separation or divorce, or contact issues with children, or aliment or maintenance or any other family law matter, get in touch with us at MTM Family Law instead. We’re not the relationship experts but we are experts in family law.