Disputes about children are notoriously difficult for everyone involved, including the children. In general, there is an emphasis on mediation, and newly separated parents are encouraged to resolve parenting disputes amicably. There is a good reason for this – it is extremely difficult to shield children from the knowledge that their parents are fighting, and ongoing distress and animosity can have life-long effects.
When going to mediation, or if you and your ex are trying to work something out about your children, remember that The Family Law Act refers to parents’ duties and responsibilities and the best interests of the child. Significantly you should note the following applies in most cases:
- Children have a right to know and be cared for by both their parents
- Children have the right to spend regular time with their parents and other important people (such as grandparents)
- Parents jointly share the duties and responsibilities
- Parents should agree about the future parenting of their children
- Children have a right to enjoy their culture for example, by spending time with people who share their culture.
All children are different. They are individuals and they react in different ways to separation. It often depends on the child’s age, temperament and the level of cooperation or conflict between the parents. For younger children, family breakdown can be difficult to understand. Older children may have an understanding of what is happening but they can also experience a time of confusion and uncertainty.
The way parents and other family members react and adjust to the separation makes a big difference to how children feel. Continued fighting can hurt children and prolong their feelings of hurt and disquiet about the separation itself.
Children need the continuing care and support of both parents. They may worry less if you can agree about what is going to happen and explain why to them. We can provide you with calm and confident advice which will help you explain to young children what is happening and help you make the right decisions for them.
When making arrangements for children, you need to consider:
- How much time your children will spend with you and how much with your ex
- who will look after them after school;
- where will they spend holidays;
- any other things such as choice of school, health care, sport, or religious matters;
- the children’s cultural background and how they will continue to be involved in that culture; and
- Whether special arrangements need to be made so they spend time with other significant people like grandparents and other relatives.
Every family is different, so the arrangements that work for your family may be different from other families. Try to make arrangements that will work the best for your children. Listen to your friends but remember that what works for them might not be best for you and your family.