As the New Year approaches, many of us are considering new beginnings, new resolutions and – sometimes – new families. Often parents hold off separating until children return to school, usually hoping to minimise the impact on them.
Here are six key considerations parents should be mindful of if separation is on the table:
What’s best for the kids?
The most important thing for you to think about right now is what is truly in the best interests of the children? It’s pivotal that parents are able to recognise what’s in the children’s best interest, as opposed to their own, and be able to distinguish between the two. If you have concerns about how to best deal with a situation or a child’s behaviour, consider speaking to a counsellor, psychologist or lawyer about how to best approach the issue.
Do they already know?
Parents often underestimate how perceptive children are and just how much they hear. If the thought of separation has been voiced at any time, chances are the children have heard it. They might not hear your repeated requests to do the dishes or pick up after themselves, but they usually manage to hear the things you would prefer they didn’t.
If your child is showing signs of not coping with the separation, it’s important to consider enlisting the help of a professional like a child psychologist or counsellor. Wherever possible, always consult the other parent before making decisions about significant medical treatment for the children.
Is later really better?
Consider the possibility that the delay in separating might just be your own avoidance. If the home environment is hostile or high conflict, you should seriously consider doing something sooner rather than later as it’s not in the best interest of the children to see their parents constantly fighting. It’s important for both parents to aim to keep the children out of conflict as much as possible, as forcing them to choose sides (intentionally or not) is detrimental to their emotional wellbeing.
How to break the news [and not their hearts].
Be open with your children, on an age-appropriate level. Ideally both parents would sit down with the children and explain that there will be a change in the family, but that won’t mean a change in the way each parent loves them. This can be a difficult and emotional conversation, and it’s again important for parents to remember that the children’s best interest trumps their own.
In Australia we have a “no fault” divorce system, which means that the Court doesn’t need to know why a couple separates (unless it is relevant to a person’s capacity to parent), they just need to know it’s permanent. Treat the children the same: they don’t need to know the details, and certainly should not be hearing that it’s Mummy or Daddy’s fault.
Remember, there’s still two parents in the picture.
Parents must remember that wherever possible they should be actively encouraging a relationship between the child and the other parent, provided that there is no risk to the children’s safety.
After separation, incidents and exchanges often happen at changeovers, so if one or both parents suspect that there might be an issue, it might be a good idea to restrict direct changeovers where possible, and arrange for children to be picked up and dropped off from school or day care. Where changeovers need to happen on a weekend outside of sporting events for example, try to arrange it in a public place to keep everyone’s behaviour in check.
Are the children supported?
Separation is a difficult time for the whole family, and children can be very emotionally intelligent. For this reason, they might see Mum or Dad sad or upset, and either not ask a question burning inside them, or tell one or both parents what they think the parent wants to hear, not how they’re actually feeling.
Keep this in mind when dealing with children immediately before, during and after separation and, where possible, make sure the children have access to as many “neutral parties” as possible to speak to. These might be close friends, extended family, sporting coaches, teachers and the like.
If you are considering separation or have recently separated and wish to discuss parenting and/or property arrangements, please do not hesitate to contact Murdoch Lawyers on 1300 068 736 for more information on how we can assist.
This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be viewed as broad guidance only. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render advice. No one should rely on the information contained in this publication without first obtaining professional advice relevant to their own specific situation.