21 November 2018

Communication between parents: sharing children's time following divorce

Amanda Bell
Senior associate | UK


Despite best intentions, managing contact arrangements for children can quite easily become the unintended depository of unresolved conflict between you and your former partner.

In support of Resolution’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ we focus on ways of limiting children’s exposure to the conflict of separation and divorce. Here are five tips to help you manage the contact arrangements for your children:

1. Plan ahead: this has so many benefits. It sends a clear message to your children that you are committed to ensuring their relationship with the other parent is protected. What could illustrate that better than planning a whole year around contact with their mum or dad?
It also clearly communicates to your partner that you take their time with the children seriously, and it is valued. When a partner leaves the family home, the basis upon which they see the children shifts overnight. Agreeing a calendar a year in advance demonstrates commitment to making sure they have quality time with the children and should produce goodwill which in turn should help with discussions about specific (more emotive) subjects.

2. Be pro-active about anticipating the emotional complexities involved on certain anniversaries, feast days and holidays. I say this with Christmas fast approaching. Just this week, a number of my clients have received requests from their former partner to change the contact schedule over the festive period, (in order to fit in with larger family celebrations). A conversation about a particular family event or party, a few months in advance is going to be far less emotionally charged than with weeks to go and it’s a good idea to front load this sort of dialogue if you can.

3. Be civil when you meet. This might seem an obvious point, but it can be especially difficult to remain calm when you are in the midst of divorce proceedings. Keep in mind that children, especially young children, are hugely sensitive to the timbre of your dialogue. In Christina McGhee’s book (1) she explains that children see themselves in binary terms, comprising one half, one parent and the other half, the other. Therefore children receive criticism of their parent as criticism of the corresponding half of themselves.

4. Give your child permission to enjoy their time with their other parent. Your child will have divided feelings of loyalty when parents separate (and long after the divorce is finalised). Even if they do enjoy time with the other parent, they may feel guilty about that and not want to tell you. Giving them permission to enjoy time with the other parent is an important gift to your child and will also pay dividends in your own relationship with them. They will appreciate it in years to come and will continue to see you as someone they can open up to and talk to in other crucial areas of their life, such as school and friendship issues.

5. Finally, try to take the long view. Long after divorce proceedings or separation disputes are over, your former partner will continue to be in your life as your children’s other parent. Accept this and try to focus on maintaining a relationship that is as good as possible for the sake of your children.

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1. McGhee, C Parenting Apart: How Separated and Divorced Parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids (Vermilion, 2011)

Amanda Bell Senior associate | London

Category: Article