How Not to Deal With Child Matters
Do not involve the children
All children should be allowed to be just that, children. This is especially the case when children have separated parents. These children are already going through immense changes, often to their living arrangements, and to their idea of family and family dynamic generally. Handled well, children can be surprisingly resilient when dealing with such changes, but it is essential that they know that they have the love and support of both parents, and that their parents are committed to working together to raise them, even after they have separated.
Not “involving” your children in child matters includes not speaking to them about the details of your separation or anything that is in dispute between you and their other parent. Do not speak about these matters to or in front of your children, and also try to speak positively of the other parent no matter how hard that may be. If you really cannot do this (and of course sometimes, that is entirely reasonable), then make sure that you do everything you can to shield the children from your feelings. Children are remarkably attuned to picking up on feelings of anger, distrust, and jealousy but they are not emotionally mature enough to properly process these feelings, and they should not have to.
It most circumstances, it is not appropriate to ask your children what they want to happen, or where they want to live. It is the role of the parents to make decisions for children, and it is unfair to expect children to be involved in that process. What children want to happen does not always marry up with arrangements that are in their best interests, or arrangements that are practical. When parents can agree about arrangements, it is important that the children know that both parents fully support those arrangements.
We often see situations where children will say to a parent what they think that parent wants to hear, and then go on to say the exact opposite to their other parent, in an attempt to keep them both happy. It is also common that if a child can pick up on hostility between their parents, they make speak poorly about one of the parents or misbehave for that parent because they think that will make the other parent happy. Clearly, this does not help anybody in the long term, and can be really quite damaging to children’s emotional well-being, as well as their relationships with both parents and other family members
The importance of not denigrating (or “putting down”) the other parent, extends to members of their family, so even when talking about your ex-mother-in-law or your ex-husband’s new wife! People will move on eventually, and you cannot take it personally, or use the children to punish them for doing so.
In a nutshell, keep adult matters and feelings to the adults.
Do not focus on your “rights”
To put it bluntly, the Family Law Courts are not interested in your “rights” when it comes to parenting and child matters. The legislation does not actually give parents any rights to see or spend time with or even speak to their children. The legislation simply places obligations and responsibilities on parents and will look at the children’s rights, when determining what arrangements are in their best interests. A child has the right to know and have a meaningful relationship with both parents, and this will almost always be the starting point for determining ongoing arrangements for the children after their parents separate, except when a child may be at risk of physical or psychological harm.
When looking at different proposals and options, try to look at it from the perspective of your child or children. Ask yourself if the child can cope with a certain arrangement. For example, can your child cope with being away from you for a certain period of time, and are the arrangements supportive of their usual routine, instead of focusing on your entitlement or desire to have them remain in your care.
Do not get caught up with the number of days and nights that the children are going to spend with you or the other parent. The courts are very clear that they are interested in the quality of the time a child spends with each parent, not only the amount of that time. With younger children, it is usually preferable that they spend regular and frequent amounts of time with their non-primary carer, as opposed to longer amounts of time less frequently.
Do not compete with the other parent
Parenting is never a competition, and this is especially true for separated parents.
Just as you shouldn’t put the other parent down, you also should not do things to make yourself look better, just to make the other parent look worse.
If there are Court proceedings about child matters, the Court considers a number of factors to determine the quality of your relationship with the children and their attachment to each parent. The Court will not be at all interested that you have bought brand-new iPads and taken the children Disney World!
Last but not least…
Stay off of Facebook! In fact, stay away from all social media. Also, be polite and courteous in your text message as well as email communications with your ex-partner.
If you cannot agree on arrangements for your children, and the Court is asked to decide, the one thing we can almost guarantee is that every text message where you swore, threatened or disparaged your partner will become evidence, and will be scrutinised. This is also the case for every Facebook post where you have aired your dirty laundry. It is easy to shoot off a nasty message in the heat of the moment, especially when you are angry or nursing a broken heart, but do try to restrain yourself. It will not make you feel better but could make you look very, very bad in the eyes of the Court, or the Court experts that are asked to make recommendations about what would be in the children’s best interests.