Some families have suffered abuse. Where a continuing parenting relationship would compromise safety this should not happen (or only be managed with careful safeguards). These families need specialist support and intervention and fall outside the FSG recommendations. (Our remit is to consider the needs of families outside of an application to the family court.)
A continuing parenting relationship does not compromise safety for most parents who live apart. However, this is a complex time for many families:
- First, separation can be a turbulent time. It may raise a host of emotions: rejection, hurt, betrayal, anger, fear, relief, heartbreak, remorse, loss of self-worth, hatred, and so on…
- Second, we know that most parents love their children. Parents want to be good parents, and want the best for their child.
Emotions and the need for support
There is a tension here. Too often, the emotional landscape of parents determines their child’s experience, without an objective view of what’s best for the child: now, next year or for the decades to come. Parents need support to cope with emotions following separation if they are to make wise decisions for their child. Rather than the only visible and financially available service being the open door of the court, parents need access to a wider variety of support from a larger pool of expertise.
Introducing ‘no-fault’ divorce is a brilliant step in the right direction, but more is needed. This, in itself, will not give parents the tools to address their emotional fallout.
Recommendations for resources
The FSG recommend a number of resources to support parents who live apart to address their emotional needs and have better relationships for the sake of their children, wherever this is safe and in the child’s best interests.
- First, we are calling for a public education campaign and a shift in our cultural understanding of family breakdown to be more relational and child-focussed.
- Next, we recommend clear information for parents, accessible from the moment they separate – via an authoritative website online and also from touchpoints, such as schools, GPs, and so on. At the moment, there is a plethora of websites and information which is confusing and overwhelming.
- We propose families attend an information and assessment meeting at an early stage to work out what support they need.
- We recommend that parents attend a ‘Separated Parent Information Programme’. These programmes provide information about acknowledging emotions, cooperating with a former partner, and what children need when parents live apart. Denise Ingamells, the author of the SPIP used by CAFCASS and the family court, says, “I’ve delivered the SPIP to well over 9,000 parents and the consistent feedback I get is that parents wish they had done it earlier.“
- See feedback from those attending the RCJ Advice course in March 2022.
- Parents then need support to resolve issues with their former partner. Mediation may be suitable for many, but not for all. A range of holistic services is required, combining legal services and therapeutic support to ensure safe processes for issues to be resolved.
- Children should continue seeing both parents, where safe to do so, while parents take time to resolve these issues. Contact centres can be used, if necessary, to ensure children do not lose a parent relationship during this time.
- Alongside all forms of support for the parents, children also need access to direct support themselves.
A system change
It is time to re-imagine family breakdown and offer a system with child welfare at its core, challenging and supporting parents to leave aside their hostilities where safe to do so and focus on their child’s remaining childhood years. This is all about childhoods in which young people thrive.
The Parents Promise was launched in 2020, helping parents to make a positive commitment to their children now in the event of relationship breakdown at some later stage. Their research found that 9 in 10 parents had discussed what they would do if they won the lottery, only 5% had talked about how they would co-parent if they were to separate.
Here’s for a short film about cooperative parenting:
President of the Family Division:
Those of us working in the system long for a better way of helping children, of helping parents to resolve what are, in effect, relationship difficulties when they break up. There are sadly many children, many parents, who need protection from harm and they rightly turn to the court and hopefully get the protection and priority in our system there. But very many don’t have those sad needs. They just become stuck in sorting out the difficulties they have as adult parents in making arrangements for their children. It can’t be right that a court system is needed to sort out arrangements for children.