Separation/divorce is difficult for parents and their children. The arrangements for custody/parenting of the children can be difficult to resolve and for many parents this may result in them needing to issue an Application with the Family Court to work out their parenting arrangements, if negotiations or mediation fails.
In determining arrangements for parenting the Court is governed by the Family Law Act 1975 and in assessing appropriate parenting arrangements to make the Court considers what is in the “best interest of the children”. Section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975 outlines the best interest considerations.
The Family Law Act however does not deal with how you can assist your child in dealing with a separation/divorce. There are counsellors and psychologist and various programs that you can access to assist with this if there are difficulties for your children.
In our experience as Family Lawyers and working with families in a legal context we have a list of factors that we recommend you consider which may assist your children after a separation/divorce. This is not an exhaustive list and many other factors may be relevant depending on your individual circumstance. Generally, however there are some things you “can do” and others that we recommend you “don’t do” that may assist you to help your children through the divorce.
What you can do
- Obtain immediate advice and assistance as to safety planning and support if you are experiencing family violence. Children should not be exposed to violence or risk. Whilst the best interest of a child is often considered in the context of the children having a meaningful relationship with both their parents, their physical, emotional, and psychological safety is also a paramount consideration. If, by ensuring a meaningful relationship, this exposes the child to risk you need to seek advice as to options regarding time spent and ensuring the environment is safe for the children.
- If there are no risk issues that need to be considered, you can formulate a plan together as to what the parenting arrangements will look like once physical separation occurs. This includes not only custody/time arrangements but also parenting styles, bedtime routine and other matters to ensure a consistent approach in both homes. This assists to provide certainty for the children of arrangements which can make the transition to physical separation easier for all involved. Mediation services can be contacted or our Family Lawyers can assist with such planning.
- Seek independent emotional support for yourself. The children should not be used to emotionally support you against the other parent. They are having their own issues to deal with regarding the separation. You should not expose the children to your own emotions, or difficulties you are having during the separation. Seek assistance from professionals to help with your own personal emotions and not the children.
- Keep open and consistent communication with the other parent. Communication does not necessarily have to occur physically but you can email, text and also download co-parenting apps to your electronic device that allow you to communicate with the other parent if you do not want ongoing physical communication.
- Listen to their feelings and seek external support services in consultation with the other parent so that they have their own emotional support. Where one of the parents will not agree on engaging external support that you feel is required seek legal advice as to your options.
- Try and spend quality time with the children. Often as you are busy dealing with beginning a new life as a separated parent finding time can be difficult if you have other commitments. Try and make the time to enjoy activities that you previously enjoyed, maintaining that familiarity and routine for the children.
- Communicate with their teacher/school and any coach or person who is involved in extra curriculum activities. Inform them of what is occurring so that if there are any issues with the children they can tell you so you are able to seek support.
- Enrol in and attend a post separation parenting program. This is often helpful to learn techniques to parent after you have separated/divorced.
- Try and retain their enrolment in extra-curriculum activities. This can be difficult given separation can lead to financial constraints. Communicate with the provider as to what is occurring as they may have some option for financial relief pending you dealing with your financial affairs.
What you should not do
- Do not involve the children in your dispute such as passing information or using them as the intermediate to make arrangements between you.
- Do not put down, criticise the other parent in their presence or hearing and ensure other family members and or friends are aware to not discuss the separation and adult issues in the presence of the children.
- Do not make unilateral decisions about the children’s schooling, sport enrolment or other decisions without first consulting with the other parent. This can cause difficulty for the child as they are at times in the middle of competing interest between their parents.
- Do not post information regarding your divorce/separation or about the other parent on social media. Children often view such posts as do their friends and this can cause them sadness and embarrassment with their peers.
- Do not make the children choose between you or the other parent. This is unfair to them and it is a difficult position for a child to be in.
- Do not allow children to read text messages between you, Court documents or other material relevant to your communication with the other party or to any litigation/negotiations between you.
- Mediation Centres:
- Relationships Australia – http://www.relationships.org.au/
- Better Place Australia – https://www.betterplaceaustralia.com.au/mediation/
- Family Relationship Centre – https://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/separation/family-mediation-dispute-resolution
- Parenting After Separation Courses:
- CatholicCare – https://www.ccam.org.au/page/18/parenting-orders-program
- Relationships Australia – https://www.relationshipsvictoria.com.au/services/post-separation-parenting/
- Contact Centres:
- Berry Street Family Centre – https://www.berrystreet.org.au/our-work/building-stronger-families/post-separation-services/childrens-contact-service
- Family Contact Service – https://familycontactservice.com.au/