With lockdown still in effect in the UK, 2021’s Children’s Mental Health Week has received much more attention than usual with many children experiencing poor mental health whilst at home.
The effects of separation can also have an impact on a child’s mental health.
In a report produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in November 2020, the report indicated common feelings experienced by children when their parents separate, which can include:
- A sense of loss
- Fearfulness about being left alone – if one parent can go, perhaps the other will do the same
- Anger towards one or both parents for the relationship breakdown
- Feeling torn between both parents.
The report indicates that these feelings can worsen when parents are fighting. It is vitally important therefore that when parents separate they work together to ensure the child feels as least stress as possible. The concept of “co-parenting” plays an important role in this.
It means parents working together to ensure that a child is raised appropriately and has everything that he or she needs. The starting point is to appreciate that parents may have different parenting styles which are not in themselves wrong … just different!
Then there should be a clear plan, which both parents follow. There are a number of options to consider when making such plans, which are highlighted below.
1. Parenting Plans:
This is a free online tool set up by CAFCASS, an organisation in all family courts in England and Wales representing the interests of children. A Parenting Plan is a simple document setting out the arrangements for the child in terms of what time the child spends with each parent and how important decisions will be made. It is informal, meaning that this can be changed whenever the parents wish. However, it is not legally enforceable which may be a drawback should there be a disagreement in the future.
2. Parenting Agreements:
These tend to be more detailed documents prepared by solicitors, sometimes following negotiations regarding the arrangements. The Parenting Agreement must also keep in mind what is deemed to be in the child’s best interests. It sets out all of the contact arrangements and how important decisions are going to be made. However, it can include just about anything relating to the child. Parenting Agreements tend to be a lot more detailed.
Provided both parents agree, a Parenting Agreement can be made into a Court Order. There would normally will be a short court hearing to make sure both parents are happy with the arrangements, and CAFCASS will carry out checks with social services and the police to ensure there are no risks posed to the child and the Court will then approve the Order.
3. Mediation Agreements:
This is appropriate when parents are unable to agree arrangements for the child. Mediation takes place with the assistance of an independent solicitor whose role is to facilitate a discussion between the parents to find suitable arrangements. If agreement is reached this is recorded in a document known as a Memorandum of Understanding, which can be easily converted into a Consent Order to be approved by the Court.
Parenting Plans, Parenting Agreements and Mediation Agreements are all good options for parents willing to work together and to co-parent their children. But, if this is not possible the court is the only other option
This is a last resort and can be a costly option to parents looking to resolve matters. The Court will ultimately make an order in the best interests of the child. Parental involvement is encouraged, but unless parents can reach agreement, the final decision is taken out of their hands. Once an order has been made, then it is legally enforceable. However, it also may be an order that neither parent wants.
It is important for separating parents to give careful consideration to the advantages of co-parenting when trying to resolve the arrangements for a child. It is also advisable to seek professional assistance in completing this task as quickly and efficiently as possible.