Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and all shades of weird and wonderful. All families are unique; they all function in unique ways that work for them. As parents, we constantly make both big and small decisions for our families, taking in to account the quirks and needs of all.
When parents separate they need to find a new way for the family dynamics to work. The need for them to make decisions, based on their knowledge of what works best for the children, does not end with their relationship; they remain parents, with all of the associated responsibilities.
Communication often breaks down, or becomes very difficult, on separation. Trying to reach agreement, so that decisions can be made, on such emotive issues as arrangements for the children, can be very difficult, and can feel overwhelming. In those circumstances, many parents turn to the family courts, and allow a Judge to decide the arrangements for their children. Whilst the Judge will undoubtedly know what is best for his own family, he does not know your children and all their little quirks, and cannot know better than you, what arrangements will work best for your children.
Court Orders tend to deal with the here and now, they cannot provide for, or anticipate, all future events, and they do not replace the need for communication between parents. Sadly, Court proceedings often serve to increase difficulties in communication.
The very adversarial nature of court proceedings brings out our instinctive desire to win; with each party trying to persuade the court that their position should be adopted, it become easy for the ‘winning’ to become the goal. This is no criticism of the parents who find themselves going through the court process; this is the way the system works, and is why court proceedings in family matters are intended to be, and should be, an absolute last resort.
A final court judgement will inevitably create a perceived ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. The resulting imbalance is not conducive to positive and co operative future relations, and the parent’s ability to communicate will have been set back considerably.
As parents, there will be an ongoing and most likely long term need for communication between you; consider school choices, medical attention, teenage issues, graduations, weddings etc etc. Whilst communication after separation can be very difficult, there will almost always be some level on which it is able to work.
When parents do not find a way to communicate, children can often end up acting as messengers between them, whether asked to or not. Misunderstandings are almost inevitable, and tension and resentment can easily build. Even with the best of intentions, in those circumstances, it can be very difficult not to show, or even verbalise, negative feelings about the other parent, in front of the children. It is a heavy burden for a child to act as peacekeeper between their parents. Children, in most cases, love both of their parent’s, and do not want to have to choose between them, or to hear one of their parent’s denigrated by the other. When children face having their loyalties divided between their parents, they undoubtedly suffer emotional harm, at a time when they are already facing the difficult changes brought about by the separation of their family.
In family mediation, parents are supported and assisted by a trained mediator, to communicate, and to work together, to make joint decisions for their children; by focusing on the children’s individual needs. Having worked together, rather than battled against each other; and having taken joint responsibility for the shape of their future, rather than having had a decision imposed upon them; the potential for feelings of resentment and future conflict is hugely minimised. A way of communication will have been established, which will live beyond the mediation process. Children will unquestionably benefit from having their future arrangements decided by the people who know and love them best; who have made decisions with their needs at the forefront of their minds.