In considering children’s matters, the key criteria for the Court is what is in the child’s best interests - with their safety and wellbeing the paramount concern.
Couples often negotiate their own parenting arrangements at separation and over time, things settle down and new routines become established. However, where people can’t agree and are in high conflict, professional help is required to negotiate a plan where all members of the family can move forward with confidence, routine and a structure that supports the children’s wellbeing. Such a structure can take the form of a parenting plan or agreement. This agreement can be formalised by submitting it to the Court in the form of Consent Orders. Once approved by the Court, the Orders are enforceable and anyone who breaches the Orders can be subjected to the scrutiny of the Court.
Often one of the key relationship ingredients to suffer in a relationship breakdown is trust. You may no longer trust each other as partners and this can spill over into how you trust each other as parents. The courts talk a lot about being child-focused for good reason. It’s a way for separated parents to keep their priorities in the right order - put the children’s needs first, parents second. It can be easy to confuse this when emotions are running high.
When parents separate, it’s important to realise that at law - in the absence of violence or abuse issues - the children have a right to a relationship with both parents. Rights come with responsibilities for the parents. In our experience some of the keys to supporting your children during separation so that they can continue a relationship with both parents are:-
Your first goal is finding a way that works for you as parents to communicate children’s issues. If you are still talking, great. If you’re not, can you text message each other? Email? Whatever you do, don’t put the kids in the position of pigeon. It’s not their job to carry messages between you. We find many couples use a Communication Book with great success. This is a journal/exercise book that travels with the children as they travel between the parents. You can write in the book anything that is relevant to the children’s needs, such as what medicines they’re taking, what they were like when you saw them, any issues that came up or even just letting each other know practical diary items, like you’ll be attending the school fete with the kids next week.
As a general rule, everyone involved in separation and family breakdown needs professional counselling, and this particularly includes the children. As soon as possible, get them talking to someone in a professional capacity, perhaps through the school, your religious organisation if any, a health service or professional body. Talk to your local doctor for a recommendation. The earlier the better, don’t wait or think ‘you’ll see how they go’. There are no downsides to talking things through, and that applies for children as well as parents. Don’t think you know what they’re going through because you don’t. You can’t. Your experience of the family breakdown is different to theirs and they need their own support network, just as much as you do.
When everything falls apart, parents move out, furniture disappears overnight and then the pets are divided up as well, it is incredibly traumatic for children. Try to keep household routines going as much as possible, and give children as much security as you can. Some children respond well to having the same clothes and toys at both houses or being able to speak to the other parent at a set time every day or second day. Being responsive to your children’s needs from the start will help them adjust to the changing family situation in the long term.
Child Support is often a point of contention between parents, but a much-needed source of income for the parent whom the children live with. You can find out what rate of child support payments could apply to your situation by visiting the calculator on the Department of Human Services website [http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/enablers/online-estimators]. Alternatively, you can come to your own agreement about child support and register that agreement with the Child Support Agency, or create your own informal arrangements. If one party is refusing to meet their child support obligations, the Child Support Agency can assist in chasing up payments.
TIP:People often worry about where to meet their ex-partner for changeover of the children. Often McDonalds or the like is a good option - it is public, there are bathroom facilities, a playground to keep children occupied and security cameras.
Contact us by phone or email about your parenting arrangements -we’d be happy to help.