Family Law and How to Parent Peacefully

Amanda McAlister

Family law issues such as divorce, adoption and custody can cause stress to every member of the family. Amanda McAlister of family and children law specialists McAlister Family Law tells Celebrity Angels about some of the most contentious issues in family law

When parents separate, they are entering into an unknown world. Ever since their children were born, they have never had to adhere to a timetable or do the job of a single parent. In most modern families, tasks would have been divided with one parent doing feed time and the other bed and bath.

As a children lawyer and divorced parent or two, I often get asked questions such as, does shared care really work? Does it not cause confusion to the children, how do they adapt to two homes, can it work if we simply do not get on?

For most, the view has already been formed that peaceful co-parenting only happens in Disney films, in the Gwyneth Paltrow household or the Hamptons. The reality is it can happen and does happen, but it takes determination by both to get it right. If you do, the rewards can be lifechanging. Children grow up feeling they can talk to you both without barriers, can celebrate their love for you both openly and more importantly you can enjoy all of this as a unit, just a different one.

There are many breakups where for a number of reasons, co-parenting is not possible, but for those where there are no welfare concerns and there is a genuine desire to work together to get it right, these tips should help.

  1. It is about the children’s wishes and feelings not our own.
    Focus should always be on what is right for the child. When parents split, they often put their own positions first. In my initial meetings I often hear the words “I must have every weekend”, “he can see them every other weekend”, “it has to be full fifty fifty or her parents are not seeing the children”. I have to take back the emotion and remind parents that children do need both parents. They have grown up with both since birth and need both growing up. We may have divorced each other but we are not divorced from our children.

    My advice is to always have at the forefront of your mind, what is right for the children. If for example, Dad asks for an additional day to watch a football match that happens to be on your day, then go with it. If mum wants to attend a girls pamper party on a day that falls on dads’ weekend, then go with it. This is putting the children first and also showing them that life Is about compromise.

  2. Routine respect and planning in advance
    Children need routine whatever their age. This is more so when they are living in two households. I often get asked what the right co-parenting routine is. The reality is, there is no right or wrong. Children do not come with a manual. They are all different. A week on week off routine may work for some children but not others. My own children have a routine which involves them staying with dad Thursday to Monday one week and Wednesday and Thursday the following week. We did not even try the week on week off as we both knew that this would be too much for our son who preferred shorter blocks. Whilst our arrangement is not exactly fifty fifty, it is as good as and works.

    A good tip is to have a calendar on the fridge door marking ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ days. Children can then see when they are next seeing the other parent which takes away any worries or anxiety that they may have.

    Holidays will also need to be planned in advance giving notice to the other. The best arrangements tend to be those that alternate the holidays each year, so children create memories of different seasons with both parents.

  3. Create a business relationship
    Tensions between parents can get high and this is often exacerbated by unhelpful communication. We can now talk to each other on a multitude of apps, which is dangerous territory to parents in conflict. My advice – see your ex as a business partner akin to a work colleague and this should change the way you communicate with each other.

    This will also have the benefit of facilitating how you talk about the other parent to the children as it takes away the emotion.

  4. Don’t create the ‘divorce kid’ environment
    My daughter often says to me that she knows the kids at school whose parents are divorced because they come in loaded up with bags. This comment has never left me, so I have worked with my ex to ensure that our kids are not loaded up when going to school. With a little planning this can work. Also, as tough as it may be, try to attend school functions, plays and parents evenings together. Attending separately and sitting at other sides of the school hall not only reminds children that their family is separated but it also announces it to their school world. It also helps you deal with any negative feedback from teachers and if needs be, it helps to apply the same rules in both households.

To summarise, co-parenting is not easy. It takes patience, understanding and resilience. I have been co-parenting now for seven years. We did not get it all right, but we applied the above rules and have now come out of the other side. The irony is our children are now teenagers and do not want to spend time with either of us, as we are ‘uncool’, and just ‘mum and dad’!

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