I was prompted to write this brief article after reading an interesting piece by Sue Atkins on how to help your children deal with boy band One Direction splitting up.
Whilst I care little for One Direction’s decision to separate, it did make me think about the role of a Family Solicitor instructed following a marriage or relationship breakdown, and more so the importance of sound advice when there are children involved.
Whilst we must adhere to our client’s instructions, in such an emotive area of law, we must be able to assess and advise on the impact of separation on the client’s circumstances, but also the impact on their children.
Sue’s article made me think about how fragile a child’s emotions can be and how important it is to make sure they do not lose trust in their parents.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard clients berate their ex in the ‘heat of the moment’ or shortly after separation, when emotions are still high and the effects of the relationship breakdown are still being felt.
However, this makes the role of a Family Solicitor crucial, not only for our clients, but for the children.
As a member of Resolution (an organisation committed to a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters), I subscribe to the Code of Guidance, which amongst other things, states that children matters should be kept separate from divorce/relationship breakdown and financial matters.
This is hugely important, but we must bear in mind that our advice in relation to how a client should deal with the divorce or relationship breakdown, or what a fair financial settlement is, will inevitably impact the children.
For example, if a parent wishes to deal with separation in a bullying or confrontational way, this will obviously cause further tension between parents which may spill out in front of the children in an argument.
Will the child be affected by seeing their parents arguing; or hearing them blame each other for where they are or who caused the relationship to breakdown?
Finding an amicable and fair way through the myriad of issues created when parents separate is not easy but it is essential.
If, as Family Solicitors, we are not advising our clients to try and maintain at the very least a working parental relationship, the impact on the children may be felt both in the immediate aftermath of separation and throughout their lives; at birthday parties, school assemblies and graduations.
What will the impact be on a child if only one of their parents attends? Will this cause a child to lose some of their respect and trust for one or both of their parents? More importantly, is it a risk worth taking?
I am sure that you will agree that it is not a risk worth taking. For that reason, amongst others, it is incredibly important that we are able to offer honest and practical advice to clients, giving consideration not only to what our client wants, but also pointing out that what they decide will inevitably impact on their children.
The consequences of separation and how this is dealt with, however unintended, can have detrimental impacts on children ranging from low self-esteem, parental mistrust or alienation.
As a Family Solicitor, the impact on the children must be considered when giving legal advice.
The best advice that I can offer is to take a step back. We have all been guilty of making a rash decision when angry or annoyed and often regret it shortly after.
As a Family Solicitor, it is important to maintain a calm approach and look to resolve the matter without getting your client embroiled in arguments or issues, which can be avoided. Unfortunately, there may be no way of undoing the damage caused to a child’s relationship with their parent if you do not maintain such an approach.
If you have any further questions or wish to discuss anything in this article, please do not hesitate to contact me on 01332 226185.
Ben Lawson is a Family Law Associate Solicitor with Flint Bishop and chair of the Derby Junior Lawyers and an active member of the Derby and District Law Society Social Committee.
He is also a Resolution member and mentor students studying law at the University of Derby.
In 2015 Ben was nominated for ‘Family Law Young Solicitor of the Year’.