This article is intended for non-resident parents in the early stages of separation that are starting to experience difficulties with arrangements for their children.
By keeping these tips in mind, you will be giving yourself the best opportunity to resolve you situation as quickly and painlessly as possible:
If you’re having trouble seeing your children, then here are some things you could try:
Don’t leave things too long –It is important not to let things linger. We are sometimes contacted by fathers who have had no contact with their children or their former partners for a number of years before finding out what their options are.
There are still options available for parents in these situations, but it is undoubtedly more difficult than when parents take positive steps soon after separation to get things resolved.
You do not want to allow a status quo of little or no contact to develop, which can be very difficult to reverse further down the line.
Keep records – Keep records of any contact you have with the other parent about contact arrangements. These records can form an important chronology of events if you ever needed to go to court, and can demonstrate the efforts you made to ensure contact could take place smoothly.
Parenting plans – Separated parents often run into difficulties with child arrangements as they are made ‘ad hoc’, and so neither the parents nor kids are sure what may happen from one week to the next.
If your difficulties aren’t so much about having contact but about the regularity or nature of the arrangements, it may be worth spending some time working on a parenting plan.
The advantage of a parenting plan is that it can help parents to create arrangements that work for them and are sustainable. There are lots of draft parenting plans available online, such as this one from Cafcass: www.cafcass.gov.uk
Exploring the family justice system – For some parents, conflict is so high that there is very little chance that they will be able to make arrangements together without some form of outside support. So does this mean you have to go to court? Not necessarily.
Cases can take a long time to resolve, and in the meantime conflict can become entrenched.
Legal aid is now also only available in exceptional circumstances, so the process can get very expensive if you are using legal professionals. If you do need to go to court though, there are ways of managing your own case to keep control over the price; contact our support services if you need any help with this.
Courts expect parents to have attempted mediation before making a court application, so mediation is likely to be most parent’s point of engagement with the family justice system.
Mediation is where a trained mediator acts as a bridge between you and the other parent to help you make an agreement that works for both of you.
Mediation can be very effective, if both parents are willing to cooperate.
It can also be a much cheaper way of resolving differences than court, and legal aid is still available for some parents to access these services. National Family Mediation (www.nfm.org.uk) can provide you with more information about the process.
Remember your ABCs – Michael Robinson from the excellent Custody Minefield website (www.thecustodyminefield.co.uk) has an acronym that I think is ideal for separated parents:
A is for attitude, B is for behaviour, and C is for child-focussed. Attitude and behaviour are crucial, whether you are writing to your former partner, attending mediation or are in court.
If you are behaving in a way that is overly confrontational or aggressive, you are less likely to be taken seriously. You are also not going to be seen as focussed on the needs of your child.
The family justice system works on the principle that the best interests of the child must always come first. If you are unable to demonstrate that you actions are entirely motivated by what you believe will be best for your child, it is unlikely that you will be able to progress your case productively.
Take care of yourself – Finally, it is important to remember amongst all of this to look after yourself. You will not be able to do yourself or your child much good if you are not in the right place physically or mentally, and an important part of the process is managing your approach.
Exercise is often a useful way to relieve stress, as is spending time with friends and spending time on other interests and hobbies that you enjoy.
These tips are not intended to be comprehensive, but to make you think about how the manner in which you approach your situation early on can influence the outcome further down the line.
If you could benefit from further understanding or support or are having trouble seeing your children, please contact one of our support services as soon as you can: www.fnf.org.uk/help-and-support-2
Ross Jones has been Policy and Communications Manager at Families Need Fathers since 2011. Founded in 1974, Families Need Fathers is a registered UK charity which provides information and support to parents of either sex. grandparents and wider family members following divorce and separation.
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