Separated Parents - Getting lost in the battle for time
It never ceases to amaze me when I see such great parents acting in a way which is so damaging to their children in the aftermath of separation. I understand where the parents are coming from and what motivates them. After all, I act for as many Dads as I do Mums. Often it is fear. Fear of losing a relationship with their children. Fear of the other parent manipulating the children against them. Fear that someone else will be installed in their children’s lives in lieu of them.
I am not talking about the cases where there is mental illness, homelessness, violence, alcoholism or illicit/prescription drug use – I am talking about those parents who have, prior to deciding to separate, provided their children a nurturing, stable and secure environment, with opportunities to pursue excellence whether that be sport, music, education or the arts. These parents who so plainly love their children and want what is best for them.
I have Mums telling me that the children spending time with their Dad during the week is too disruptive . I have Dads telling me that they are a parent as well and why does the Mother get more time. All logical things from their own perspective, but very misguided.
To the Mum who says midweek time is disruptive, I say that it is not ideal, but neither is the child having to grow up with separated parents. I invite them to consider all the good that comes from that midweek time with Dad, like having their Dad involved in their school life, afterschool sport, meeting peers and peers’ parents at drop off, afterschool sport or activities. Just the child knowing that their Dad is interested in those things and participates in those things are hugely beneficial to the child.
To the Dad that demands equal time because he is as much a parent as the Mother I refer them to the huge body of social science that supports that such arrangement produces poor outcomes unless certain criteria are met, such as good communication, high level of trust, similar parenting styles and routines, flexibility in arrangements. The mere fact that the parents cannot agree is indicative that an equal care arrangement is unlikely to be best for the child. It is not just the studies that informs me of this, I have clients who call me several years after Orders were made for equal time, telling me that they no longer see their child or that the child no longer sees the other parent – often it is not because the child does not like the parent who they no longer see, but because when they reach adolescence, they are just sick of being stuck in the middle and sick of having to pack up every week and move house. Choosing one parent over the other is just the easiest course for them to take – but as we know estrangement from one or both of their parents is likely to cause significant problems later in life.
I always remind parents that their children did not choose for their parents to separate. They did not choose to not be able to see each of their parents each day. They did not choose to have to live between households. They did not choose to be conduits for communication between their parents. They did not choose to mediate their parents’ dispute. They did not choose to have to meet and accept their parents’ new partners in their lives.
I have the parent who did not initiate the separation, telling me that they did not want this and that it is the other parent’s fault. That the other parent caused this and broke up the family and that it was not their choice. I remind them that they did choose to start a family with the other parent in the beginning, so they did choose. That the only innocent party is the child.
It’s harsh and I wonder whether my family law colleagues are so blunt and forthright. But from my perspective, if I had got off track and was behaving in a way which was damaging to my children, I would want to be refocused. I cannot recall a client ever leaving or changing lawyers as a result of my directness. I think it is because, as I have said, these parents so clearly love and want what is best for their children. Family Lawyers are often criticised for driving the dispute, even by the current Attorney-General. Well, I can say that this Family Lawyer does what he can to see good parents transition through separation as quickly, and as healthily, and with least damage caused to the children as possible.
So to all you parents out there who are contemplating separating or have recently separated, don’t fight for time, rather do what you have always done… love, care, support and nurture your children. They’ll be better for it. Your relationship with the other parent will be better for it. Don’t forget, there are Birthdays, Graduations, Engagements, Weddings, Christenings all ahead of you where your children will want you both there with them.