For most separating parents their primary concerns include their children’s wellbeing and fear about the legal process. Consequently, the first few questions I am usually asked are these:
“How do I tell the kids we’re separating?”
“I don’t want to have to go to court to get things sorted. Can you help?” and;
“If we’re separating, what needs to happen first?”
These questions reflect the natural fears held by anyone who is embarking on something as significant as a separation. So I’d like to offer you some initial thoughts about these questions which will hopefully assist.
How to tell your children you are divorcing
For most parents their greatest concern is how a divorce will impact their children. While I have outlined a few suggestions for you below, my first recommendation to clients is usually this: seek out a family consultant or child psychologist for support and to help you work out how to best deliver the information to your individual children. As you know, each child will react differently so these specialists will ask you about your children, and take into account their unique needs. They will provide age-appropriate recommendations for when and how you might deliver the news of separation to your children.
From my many years of helping families work through the process of separation and divorce, it is usually best if parents can agree on the message to be delivered to the children and often (not always) it is better for the parents to be together when the children are informed. It is important to be truthful about what is happening but without too many graphic details. Reassure your children that they are loved and that the decision to separate is in no way their fault.
The main goal is to keep the explanation simple, clear and future-focused about the new family arrangements.
Once you have delivered the news, it is important for both parents to continue with a supportive approach. Some parents in their grief or transition criticise or belittle the other parent in front of their children which can prove damaging. Some parents reply on their children for emotional support. We also know that it can also be problematic for children, even older teenagers, when they are asked to pass on messages to the other parent or to report back or ‘spy’ on the other parent.
For anyone going through this difficult time, two final key points are to avoid exposing the children to ‘conflict’ and to ensure that the children feel supported in maintaining their relationship with the other parent.
Will I end up in Court?
While this is a significant concern for most people, the reality is that most parents do not end up in court. Only 3% of parents end up going to court to finalise their parenting orders. My fellow Partner at DDCS, Di Simpson recently wrote an article about the findings of the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ report in late 2019 that elaborates on the evidence that families are avoiding conflict and court in divorce.
In our firm we find that most people prefer not to obtain Parenting Orders. Most are looking for an informal agreement such as a parenting plan that serves as a broad agreement the parenting arrangements.
As professionals who spend our days helping families as they go through the separation process, we do not encourage anyone to go to court. It is usually far better to negotiate an agreement than have a Judge, a stranger to your family, make a decision for you. Of course, in an intractable dispute or where children are being exposed to unacceptable conduct, such as family violence, it is usually appropriate to commence proceedings. Delays in commencing proceedings in these circumstances will potentially expose children to further abuse and may prejudice a satisfactory outcome of court proceedings. Seeking immediate legal advie in these circumstances is essential.
We’re separating. What needs to happen right now?
As with any significant life event, seeking out expert advice early in the piece can be the difference between a positive and a disappointing outcome. A consequence of not seeking early advice is that you may diminish your negotiating power, making it difficult (and costly) to obtain an outcome that is in the best interests of the children. Getting specialist advice early can help set the scene for what happens in the longer-term.
A common misconception is that some parents believe that they should equally share the parenting of their children upon separation. That is not what the law says. There are many considerations that are taken into account such as the children’s needs at their particular age, the attitude of each parent to foster and maintain the children’s relationship with the other parent and the particular circumstances of the family.
An agreement for parenting arrangements should be created in a way that means it is practical for all involved. It should be manageable and make sense for the children at their particular age. It should also provide stability for the children but ideally allow some degree of flexibility.
With specialist Family Law advice and the support of a family consultant most parents are able to reach agreement about the future arrangements for their children. In most cases Court proceedings about parenting matters can be avoided.
The best outcome for children is usually determined by their parents maintaining a respectful relationship with each other and supporting the children to have a meaningful relationship with the other parent.
If you would like recommendations for family consultants and child psychologists in your area, do get in touch. DDCS Lawyers specialise in all aspects of family law and can help guide you through the difficult process of separation. If you need assistance, contact our team on (02) 6212 7600 to book a consultation