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At a time when your world is falling apart how can you put children first?

By Yvette James-Rudder

Separation is a very difficult time and when children are involved it adds another layer of pain.  You may feel angry, hurt, vulnerable, guilty and relieved all in one day.  This exhausting mixture of emotions can make it hard for parents to talk openly, make compromises or even co-operate with each other. 

It’s very natural to feel distracted and upset during a separation, especially if you can’t agree on anything. Your feelings could mean that you act differently as a parent – getting angry or being tearful more often.

Children will also have a lot of emotions to deal with.  They may get angry, feel anxious, hurt and/or relief.  A child might be worried that if you have stopped loving the other parent, you will stop loving them too.  They may worry about how they should behave to make you feel better. 

Children will be happier if parents can communicate directly and respectfully with each other.  They can also learn from seeing parents handle disagreements well. 

So just at the time when you need to be the best parents you can be it is most difficult to give children what they need. Alongside this it is difficult to know what is best –you have never done this before and have images of those that have got it wrong and very few that have got it right. Gwyneth Paltrow has said that when she and Chris Martin separated she looked at separated friends who were still working well as a family and asked them how they had managed it. She said they told her they did not do well at the beginning and that it just got better. She said that she and Chris decided it was going to be as good as it could be from the beginning.  

Mediation is or should be the first port of call for couples following a separation if they are struggling to agree things.  It is a place for parents to talk and agree matters about the children, finances or other issues surrounding a separation.  In some instances children can be involved. In the long-term children have said they feel better if they are given the opportunity to have their say about decisions that affect them. 

If mediation is unsuccessful or communication has broken down completely, you may consider consulting a family lawyer. This is not goodbye to negotiating an amicable agreement about the arrangements for your children. Lawyers that specialise in this area of law are likely to recommend they support you reach agreement. Of course lawyers writing to each other about parenting issues and court proceedings are useful in a small number of situations and essential in some.

As lawyers who specialise in this work we can help you navigate waters with which you are unfamiliar and provide you with the benefit of our greater experience. We count it as a success if we provide you with advice and support and you are able to do the rest yourself. That is what your kids want and we know you want too.


Glossary of terms

Contact centres offer supported contact – contact takes place in a large room with other families and a member of staff is on hand to facilitate this.

Supervised contact if there is a potential risk of harm the centre ensures the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of children in a 1-1 observed setting. The centre can be used as a drop off/pick up point for handovers.  Parents do not have to meet in any of these circumstances if that is preferred.

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