The C-Word: A Guide for Separated Parents this Summer
As family solicitors and mediators we assist separated parents on an almost daily basis in relation to arrangements for their children. In our experience as family professionals, a key tool in ensuring successful co-parenting is more often than not a five syllable c-word…communication.
Without effective communication, separated parents will often find themselves experiencing what feels like an endless battle with their ex-partner in an attempt to raise their children. As a result of such difficulties, a parent may see the other as controlling, inconsiderate, uncompromising and unreasonable. Negative feelings toward the other will often escalate and in time the channel for effective communication shuts down completely.
During term time, some separated parents would say that there is little need for them to communicate as there is an instilled routine for when their children spend time with each parent which negates the need for the parents to talk to one and other, or communication will be a bare minimum e.g. in an emergency if their child is unwell. However, the school holidays commonly cause more problems for separated parents as it may involve them having to agree how to share those holidays depending on the commitment and plans of each parent and the children themselves. The summer holidays can be the biggest challenge for separated parents due to the length of time the children are away from school and out of their term time routine.
In most cases, parents will agree arrangements for the summer holidays directly between themselves on a yearly basis and do so effectively. There will be parents out there no doubt who year on year experience difficulties with their ex-partner in making arrangements for their children and would welcome a fixed arrangement imposed by a Court so that they do not have to communicate with the other parent. As family solicitors, we can say quite simply that unfortunately a Court Order does not always resolve these problems successfully. Whilst the Court may make a Child Arrangements Order which stipulates, for example, that a child should be with each parent for 3 weeks during the summer holidays, the specific timetable for that contact will commonly be left to the parents to agree. Again, even with a Court Order in place the c-word becomes essential to make successful arrangements over the summer holidays.
A common dispute which we see as family solicitors and also mediators during the summer holidays is overseas travel arrangements. This could involve a situation where both parents have booked to take the children away at the same time, or without prior notice to the other.
Unless there is a Child Arrangements Order stipulating a child lives with a parent (formally Residence Order) which allows a parent to travel overseas for up to 28 days, neither parent should take a child overseas without the other parent’s consent. Even a parent with a formal Order in place, should by way of best practice and to maintain good relations with their ex-partner seek consent from them before travelling overseas.
It can be extremely helpful to communicate the full details of the travel arrangements with the other parent including the departure/arrival airports and times, the duration of the holiday, accommodation and an emergency contact telephone number. Not only will this reassure the other parent who may be anxious about the child travelling overseas due to the choice of destination, the length of time the child will be away for or due to this being the first holiday with a parent, it will also demonstrate a commitment to co-parent. The sooner plans are communicated the better.
Early communication would avoid a scenario where holidays conflict and if in the unfortunate scenario a parent unreasonably refuses to consent to overseas travel it gives you both enough time to try to resolve the matter without the added stress and resentment which would ensue if arrangements are being agreed at the eleventh hour or worse, paid holidays are being cancelled at the last minute. Not only would this put a strain on your relationships as parents, but if plans have been communicated to the children, this could also lead to anxiety for them and ultimately disappointment.
If you are experiencing difficulties over holiday arrangements with your ex-partner this summer, family mediation may be able to assist you. Within the process of family mediation you and your ex-partner can work with the family mediator who will help you come to a mutual decision on arrangements for your children. If you’re finding it difficult to communicate effectively the mediator can help you by looking at ways in which communication could be improved and helping you find ways to put this into practice.
Use the c-word this summer and enjoy the holidays.
If you would like to find out more about family mediation, our accredited mediators Sally Clark and Laura Clapton would be happy to discuss your family situation. Call 0113 357 1315.