Whilst there is no one fits all strategy in a parenting dispute, there are some pretty safe rules or tips I give my clients when advising them on how to ensure their outcome – negotiated (preferably) or litigated – is something that reflects the best interests of the children. So, here’s my parenting matters “do not do” list:
- Don’t trash talk the other parent
Children exposed to negative views of their parents will often feel pressure to take sides. Even if you are in another room and you think they can’t hear, think again because kids often enjoy a sneaky listen to adult conversations. Perhaps have another channel of stress relief rather than a good old “bitch” session.
- Don’t make your kids feel sad for you, intentionally or otherwise
This isn’t even direct acts of seeking sympathy it can include unintentional or subconscious behaviour such as:
- Crying in front of the kids
- Telling them that their mum or dad is taking them to Court
- Saying how sad you are about the relationship being over or about having to sell the house or move out.
- Don’t refuse to communicate with the other parent
Your kids need to see you and their other parent getting along. The Court also takes a dim view of parents that intentionally refuse to communicate, as this may cause concern that you cannot promote the relationship between the child and the other parent. You don’t need to be best friends, just be child focussed and polite.
- Don’t withhold time unless there are absolutely necessary reasons for doing so
The situations within which withholding time may be considered reasonable can include:
- Violence towards the parent or child
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Risk of sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse, including the “trash” talk referred to above (but this would have to be extreme.
- Don’t make up “mud” and sling it just to try to get an advantage
Allegations of abuse of drugs and alcohol will be monitored with appropriate testing, such that if there is or has been no problems, this will soon be found out. Likewise, if you do have a problem and lie about it, this too will be found it. Truth always is the best option.
- Don’t split up the kids, unless there are developmental or other reasons for doing so
Keeping sibling units together is of most importance, however sometimes with massive age differences (say 7 years and a 6mth baby) there will need to be arrangements put in place that are appropriate for each of their developmental needs.
- Don’t think you know it all and don’t have to prepare for court appointed interviews or reports
This preparation DOES NOT involve telling the children what to say or how to act. What it means is that you need to consult with your lawyer about what the process will involve, the types of questions that may be asked and how to critically think about your behaviour and reflect on it appropriately.
- Don’t engage in behaviour that will see your kids play you and their other parent off against each other
Yes, children will test your boundaries, but each parent needs to adopt a consistent enough approach to rules and structure. Absence of this will encourage them to test the boundaries in both households, seizing the opportunity to gain an advantage by making either or both parents feel guilty.
- Don’t involve the kids in their parent’s arguments, show them court documents or tell them about the “judge” making them do things etc.
You are your child’s hero and information provided in family law proceedings is just not information your child needs to know. This may have the effect of negatively impacting their view of their other parent, who, whilst you do not like too much right now, is still their hero.
- Don’t talk about “your” rights instead of focusing on the best interests of your children, even when those interests do not align with what you “want
Parents do not have rights when it comes to children. The Family Law Act makes no provision for this. Children have rights. Deeply entrenched parental conflict can result in parent’s forgetting this. Before you make a decision to take a step or engage in conduct, stop and think about why you are doing this and how or whether it is in the best interests of your children. If it is not, then simply, do not do it.
Taking the time to consider the above will hopefully assist you in moving your parenting matter forward in the best interests of your children. OMB Solicitors family law Partner Abbi Golightly is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law and a recommended Family Lawyer for complex parenting disputes by the Doyles Guide. Using these skills and knowledge we will guide you through your parenting matter with the best interests of your children as the paramount concern. Contact us on 07 5555 0000 for your free initial consultation.