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The Split – a specialist family law perspective of episode five

The cat is out of the bag – Nathan did more than just enjoy a plate of moules frite during his trip to Brussels! We will have to wait until the final episode of The Split airs on BBC One next Tuesday to find out if Hannah and Nathan decide to continue the marriage.

If Hannah and Nathan do separate, their relationship could be amicable or very bitter (or perhaps somewhere in between). However, one aspect of Hannah’s relationship with Nathan will continue beyond any separation: they will both remain parents of their three children. Like many parents who have been through a separation, Hannah and Nathan will therefore have to learn to co-parent effectively, irrespective of their personal feelings towards each other.

Whatever the state of Hannah and Nathan’s relationship, their children have a positive right to maintain a relationship with both of them. In my experience as a family law specialist solicitor, children can be deeply distressed if they see that their parents do not manage parenting time and co-parenting in an adult and cooperative manner.

For that reason, I have compiled some “top tips” for Hannah, Nathan, and any other parents considering a separation on how to co-parent effectively:

Do

  • Be positive about contact with the other parent. If you are the parent with whom the children live, it is your responsibility to prepare the children mentally, emotionally and physically for the time they will spend with the other parent. You can do this by expressing positive views about contact and encouraging the children to participate fully and wholeheartedly. Although you may not necessarily feel this way, it is in the children’s best interests if you convey to them a positive view or desire.
  • Have the children ready on time. It will assist the smooth working of the contact if the children are ready for collection at the arranged time.
  • Supply the necessary clothing/items. The children should be sent for contact in suitable clothing and footwear for the time of year. Also, if contact involves staying overnight, they should have with them necessary changes of clothing, nightwear, toothbrush etc.
  • Be regular. If the children live with the other parent, make sure that you keep to the contact arrangements. Otherwise you will risk causing great disappointment to the children and damage to your relationship with them. The other parent may also feel unable to rely on you.
  • Be punctual. Late collection and return will cause inconvenience to the other parent and often results in unnecessary frictions and difficulties. If you are late collecting the children, it will also cause anxiety to the children who are waiting for you to arrive.
  • Be responsible. Make the contact a special time with the children by giving them your full time and attention. You should do things of interest with the children and don’t treat the contact as a burden or chore.
  • Return the children in a reasonable condition. Children will be children and will get dirty. However, as far as possible, you should try and return them to the other parent in a clean and tidy condition.
  • Communicate about the children generally. It is often a good idea to find a way to communicate about the children at the beginning and end of each contact visit, so that both parents are aware of any issues the children are having, any medication they may need to take, any school problems which they may raise etc. If you have a reasonably amicable relationship, it may simply be possible to build in 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning and end of contact to have a quick chat about anything relevant. If the nature of your relationship means that this is not realistic, you could have a book, which travels with the children, in which you keep a note of anything that you think it would be helpful for the other parent to be aware of when the children move from spending time with one of you to the other.

 Don’t

  • Change the contact arrangements unilaterally or arbitrarily unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. You should adhere to these arrangements unless is it absolutely necessary to make a change, and any such change should be after sufficient notice to the former partner.
  • Undermine the primary carer’s authority. The parent with whom the children live has to discipline the children on a day-to-day basis, and you should do your best not to undermine that discipline. Rather, you should support and add to it to the best of your ability so that you both present a “united front” to the children.
  • Over treat the children. The temptation to over spoil your children should be avoided. It is not helpful if the children see you as the parent providing the “treats” and the parent with whom they live as the one who disciplines them.
  • Use your children as “pawns”. You may have strong negative feelings towards the other parent, but you should try not to use the children as “pawns” in your relationship with them as this can be upsetting and damaging to the children. In my professional experience, parents who use children as pawns frequently suffer difficult relationships with their children once they are adults.
  • Alienate your children from the other parent. Children have the right to maintain a relationship with both parents. Whatever your personal feelings about your former partner may be, please try to keep them to yourself or vent them to a close friend or family member instead.
  • Interrogate the children. Sometimes one parent may ask the children a lot of questions about the other parent (for example, about what he or she is doing, who they are seeing etc). This kind of interrogation should be avoided as it is involving the child unnecessarily in the relationship problems between the parents.
  • Cause unnecessary friction. Even in ordinary circumstances, the smooth working of contact arrangements can be difficult to achieve. It becomes all the harder to achieve if one parent is being unreasonable and causing unnecessary friction. Do everything you can to promote good relations and the smooth working of contact arrangements.

If you would like to speak to a family law specialist about any of the issues raised in this blog or featured in The Split, please get in touch.

The final episode of The Split will be broadcast on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday 29 May 2018. Previous episodes are available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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