When a couple separates and cannot agree on the care arrangements for their child/children they often end up in the Family Court applying for a Parenting Order.
Once there is a Parenting Order in place, it is common for parents to want to stick to the Order by the letter, but this can prove impractical and sometimes distressing to the child at times.
A Parenting Order outlines who has the role of providing the day-to-day care of a child until the child reaches the age of 16. Day-to-day care can be shared between the parents or one parent may have the child for the majority of the time and the other parent has arranged contact periods.
For a Parenting Order to be effective, the Court relies on the parents’ cooperation and flexibility, “putting their children’s needs first”. This is reflected in section 5(c) of the Care of Children Act 2004:
“a child’s care, development, and upbringing should be facilitated by ongoing consultation and cooperation between his or her parents, guardians and any other person having a role in his or her care under a parenting or guardianship order”.
The concept of ongoing consultation and cooperation between parents once they have separated is not often considered when two parties are in conflict.
In a recent case, the mother liked to adhere exactly to the terms of the Parenting Order, not allowing the father to attend school events, not allowing the father to call the child or change the drop off time if it encroached into her contact period. The father, on the other-hand, placed little value on adhering to the specified times and often turned up to events uninvited when the child was in their mother’s care. This lead to many heated arguments, usually in front of the child, often leaving the child distressed and upset.
In a another case, the parents did their best to work around the needs of the child. If the child wanted both parents at a school event, they would both attend. They even went to the extent of throwing a joint birthday party for their child. When one parent wished to change the drop off times or swap weekends etc, they would communicate about this civilly and try to compromise or work around each other’s needs. They didn’t do this because they particularly wanted to help their ex-partner out, but rather they understood that being flexible and reasonable with their communication would be best for their child.
Children pick up on their parents’ emotions and can often take on a sense of responsibility for their parents’ feelings. This can be displayed in various ways, such as not telling their parents about something they want to attend because they are worried it will start a fight, or trying to keep the peace in whichever way they think is best. Children like to know their parents can talk to each other or be present in one another’s company and this can take a lot of stress away from the child.
Although the mother in the first case was technically correct in her expectation that the father abide exactly with the Order, her inflexibility ended up negatively affecting their child. However, the Father’s lack of respect for the parenting order and the Mother’s expectations regarding organisation was also not doing the child any favours.
Flexible parenting mostly comes down to communication. Respectful communication between parents and some fluidity can go a long way to making a more peaceful and stress-free transition for the child.