When a relationship ends, the “what happens next” looks very different when there are children involved. It is not the case that once you have resolved outstanding financial matters and divorced (if necessary) that your contact with your former partner/spouse ends there. There will be a need for an element of ongoing contact to ensure your children’s relationship is not impacted (there are of course a limited number of circumstances where any ongoing contact is not appropriate and this should be discussed with a Solicitor).
It is likely that your relationship with your former partner/spouse will change over time – it is common for parties to find communicating just after a separation very difficult, this then improves over time. Sometimes it can then become difficult once more when either parties’ life moves forward and they form a relationship with someone else for example. It is imperative for your children that you find a way to continue communicating throughout.
It is vital that you separate the problems between you and your former partner/spouse in your adult relationship to those surrounding the arrangements for your children. The arrangements should be made in the best interests of the children and should allow for a relationship with both parents. There is a presumption that both parents should spend time with their children unless there is a very good reason for this not to happen.
If you are finding it very difficult to communicate with your former partner/spouse when discussing your children, there are various options that you could consider in order to move forward:
- Mediation will allow for you to have focused conversations with your former partner/spouse with the help of a trained Mediator. Mediation is very beneficial as it takes place with you both present and encourages discussion. You can deal with all aspects of parenting as separated parents and it does not have to be limited to solely the arrangements for the children. Mediation is however not appropriate in situations where there has been a history of domestic violence or where one party feels entirely undermined by the other. You may also wish to seek advice in the background from a Solicitor who would be able to advise you on any proposals made during mediation.
- Negotiation via your Solicitor. If you do not feel able to have direct discussions at this time, you can negotiate with your former partner/spouse via your Solicitor. Your Solicitor can write a letter on your behalf proposing the arrangements that you would like in place for your children. This approach can help to keep you focused on the issue at hand, rather than allowing for the difficulties between you as adults in your relationship to impact discussions. Negotiating via your Solicitor can also be very effective when you do not consider yourself on an equal footing to your former partner/spouse and you are worried about them bamboozling you with information.
- Court Process/Arbitration. Where discussions really are not progressing or where your former partner/spouse is ignoring all forms of communication, it may be necessary at this stage to make an application to Court or consider Arbitration. A Solicitor will be able to advise you on the best option in your particular situation. The outcome of either process would be an Order/agreement that binds you both as parents to an arrangement for your children.
Having been through the Court/Arbitration process, communication remains crucial and it will improve your situation going forward if you can find an effective way to communicate with one another. There is various technology in place to assist with this now such as mobile apps for example Our Family Wizard.
In addition to all of the above options, you may also wish to consider self-referring to the CAFCASS Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) which aims to help you reflect on your relationship as separated parents and to give you the tools to assist you with co-parenting your children effectively. You do not attend the same programme as your former partner/spouse.