The process of separation has multiple dimensions, especially where children are involved. It is evident that relationships change when parents split up and tensions can run high. It is important that the needs of the child are placed at the forefront of considerations as they are forced to adapt to a foreign situation. Issues between separating partners need to be set aside when agreeing and acting on care arrangements. This is reinforced by section 4 of the Care of Children Act 2004, which details that the welfare and best interests of the child are paramount.
From a family lawyer’s perspective, it is essential that care arrangements are made that prioritise the child, no matter what the personal circumstances that arise between the parents. Successful co-parenting post separation revolves around communication, clarity and – above all – putting the best interests of your child first.
In a care arrangement, there must be certain criteria established and consented to by both parties. These are created to cover current care arrangements but also future decisions. Decisions surrounding day-to-day care, contact times and decisions that go beyond daily care (such as school choice and medical treatments) are made within the care arrangement.
Care arrangements can be made informally between parties. This better preserves relationships and ensures that the transition is more comfortable for children involved. From a family law perspective, it is encouraged to have these arrangements in writing so that what is agreed upon is carried out. For further information on what should be in care arrangements and how they are determined see Working out day-to-day care for your children.
Every relationship is different, so no separation will ever be the same. One underlying feature that extends to most separators is stress. Trying to separate the effects of the breakup in order to provide your child with a balanced upbringing is difficult. Seeking family mediation and parenting through separation education assists and builds skills to successfully co-parent. The Ministry of Justice and organisations like Family Works Resolution Service have programmes that provide advice and strategies to work through separation and its effects on children. Having continued support after separation is likely to help with co-parenting. Further, seeking personal help to work through issues caused by separation is likely to help you separate parenting from personal feelings towards your past partner.
The Family Works Resolution Service is offering a new tool called OurFamilyWizard free to families who complete their family mediation programme. This app aims to take the stress out of communicating and planning between separated parents. It is a platform that helps to clearly detail family plans while smoothing contact. The tool can be accessed by multiple parties – it is not just restricted to parents. This means that children can also be clear about arrangements and have an input in the process. The app encompasses a calendar, message board, expense log, journal and infobank.
Calendar: allows everyone to see the agreed arrangements while also having a function to request changes.
Message board: messages sent cannot be edited, deleted or retracted. There is also a ToneMeter, which monitors the text for emotionally charged statements. It encourages mindful communication.
Expense log: expenses can be loaded into the app to track spending, along with receipts.
Journal: last-minute schedule changes can be logged along with any other notes.
Infobank: important information can be logged here for easy access, such as medical history or school contacts.
Utilising this app ensures that communication is transparent, clear and effective. By having all material in one place that can be accessed by everyone involved co-parenting after separation is likely to be more successful.
Successful co-parenting is dependent on whether the child’s needs are met by the arrangements in place. By working to split co-parenting arrangements from emotions that are involved with separation, co-parenting post separation is likely to be more successful. For more guidance and support on successful co-parenting, contact your family lawyers at Bell & Co on 04 499 4014.