By Caroline Henderson, MTM Family Law, Glasgow
Whilst people may become ex-spouses or ex-partners when they separate, they do not become ex-parents. They need to try to become co-parents and get along better than when they were married or when they lived together.
As parents you share responsibility for your child. You have a duty to talk to each other and make every effort to agree about how you will bring your child up. Even when you separate, this duty continues. You need each other to parent effectively. Co-operation, however difficult, is essential.
Here are some rules to remember, and many thanks to Nicos Scholarios of MSM Solicitors, Paisley & Glasgow, for formulating these:-
1. Never say negative things about the other parent to the children or in front of the children.
2. Never let your family, friends or others say negative things about the other parent to the children, or in front of the children. Be alert to the fact that children are sometimes listening to you on the phone and you may not be aware of that.
3. Do not speak to each other in inflammatory ways either in person, by telephone or by text, and do not “wind” each other up deliberately. Provoking the other parent isn’t helpful. Again, children can be listening even if you’re not aware of this. It can be useful to imagine your children in the room when you require to communicate with your ex. Some people have said that they have found it helpful to visualise their child’s face in front of them or visualise the child in the room.
4. Exchange pleasantries in front of the children, no matter how difficult this may be for you, particularly at contact pick up and return times. It can help assure children that it is OK to spend time with both parents and to chat to either parent without upsetting the other.
5. Never discuss disagreements or conflicts in front of the children.
6. Agree a strategy or process for constructively discussing any issues which arise.
7. Improve communication It is in the best interests of the children that you, as parents, can communicate effectively together. Some suggestions are to set agreed times for communicating with each other, by telephone or in person, and avoid telephoning, texting, emailing etc at other times (unless there is an emergency or a real and genuine issue which requires to be dealt with immediately). If you are going to meet up to discuss matters, try choosing a neutral venue, without the children being present. Or if that’s not possible, perhaps the parent who has the children during the agreed communication time could initiate the call. If you agree a time, stick to it – although please be mindful that events outwith your former partners control CAN happen! Answering machines, mobile phones, texting and voicemail may be helpful in communicating essential information. Don’t message constantly though strike a balance.
8. Share important information (such as medical information and school events) and agree common rules for bedtime, TV, discipline etc for your children. Online calendars to which both parents have access and can enter date and event information can help coordinate the arrangements for the children, and ensure there is less scope for confusion about who should be where and at what time. This can cut down on stress and ensure each party knows when they are shouldering the responsibility of the football run, swimming, gymnastics, parties etc.
9. Attend events for your children together when possible. You do not have to be best friends, but your child will benefit from seeing his/her parents together behaving civilly to one another.
10. Respect the other parent’s parenting style, even if this differs from you own. Accept that if the other parent does things differently from you, this may not be exactly how you would like it done but it may just be “good enough”. Although one parent’s parenting style may be different, both parents should still agree common rules for bedtime, discipline etc as above.
11. Make your children’s needs more important than your needs (for example, be flexible so as not to interfere with children’s school and social activities) and be willing to give up some of “your” time to make these things happen.
12. Help your child understand Your child needs to understand what is happening to their family. It is your job as mum or dad to explain. Your child should not be made to blame himself or herself for the breakup. Don’t help your child turn against the other parent because they think that is what you want. You can help your child think about how he or she feels about the breakup. Listen to what your child has to say about how he or she is feeling, and about what he or she thinks of any arrangements that have to be made. Involve your child if they are old enough, but don’t place the burden of decision making on them – that is your job to decide with the other parent.
13. Respect the other parent’s time with your children. Part of this is to always be on time and five minutes early if possible. Never leave children on the doorstep.
14. Any changes in the schedule must be discussed with the other parent first before informing the children.
15. Do not place children in loyalty conflicts.
16. Do not quote what children may have said to or about another parent.
17. Do not accept what children say about the other parent as accurate without checking with the other parent.
18. Do not let solicitors and courts make decisions about your children that you should make as parents.
19. Take responsibility for following these rules even if the other parent does not.
20. Move Forward. Leave the past behind.