As family lawyers, a large proportion of our work naturally involves us assisting separated husbands, wives and partners to move on with their lives. Many of those clients are parents – national statistics for 2008 showed that almost half of divorcing couples that year had children under the age of 16.
In a lot of cases, separating parents are able, and indeed we encourage them, to discuss between themselves what the arrangements for the children should be, so that there is minimal disruption for them and they can continue to enjoy strong relationships with both their mother and father.
However, there are, sadly, a number of cases where parents are unable to agree the arrangements for the children, and in these cases, court proceedings may well ensue. But it has recently been pointed out by England’s most senior family court judge, Nicholas Wall, that parents in these cases often fail to appreciate the effect that their behaviour has on the children.
He went on to say that separating parents often use their children as weapons against each other, to continue personal disputes that exist between them. Many arguments are not, according to Wall, about the children themselves, but because of issues that the parents have with each other, this can have a hugely detrimental effect on the children. One or both of the parents involved may hold a grudge against the other, for whatever reason, which may have lead to the breakdown of their relationship, and this can manifest itself into an angry and bitter battle about, for example, who the children should live with, how often they should see each parent etc.
The law as it stands prioritises the best interests of the children. In practice, however, the judgement of many parents is clouded by issues that they have with each other. As a result, Nicholas Wall has called for a change in the law (and a review of family law is well underway at the moment). He has indicated that the changes may involve there being a presumption of residence being shared between the parents, and also making mediation compulsory before court proceedings are issued.
All the members of our family team are members of Resolution, and part of the Resolution code of practice that we all adhere to requires us to encourage clients to deal with matters amicably and constructively, whether it be disputes in relation to children, or negotiating a financial settlement following separation. For further information, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
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