Child arrangements: work life balance

The key principles when making child arrangements is the wellbeing of the children, what family lawyers call the welfare principle. This is set of criteria contained in the Children Act which states the factors which are relevant to making arrangements for children, by parents.

However, they are little more than general points, and in practice, they are often difficult to apply. Difficult to apply in the sense that everyone has their own view of what welfare means, and much like fairness it is apt to differing interpretations.

Allied to this is the reality of people’s lives. We increasingly hear about the stresses and strains and the hardships involved in setting a proper work life balance.

That’s true when you are dealing with one household, but when dealing with two households, this raises the problem to a higher level. Often, commitments are such that what we would like to do, in reality we are unable to fulfil. This is relevant to child arrangements also.

We are regularly instructed by clients, who, with final court orders, simply cannot make the arrangements work. Court orders do have the advantage of providing certainty, and are binding, but they often lack flexibility. Despite most orders containing provision to vary (such further or other contact as may be agreed), the fact that agreement may be difficult to reach, means this provision is often rendered meaningless, no more than a fertile ground for disagreement.

There are no hard and fast guidelines on what to do here.

If, for example, your job involves you regularly having to travel abroad, sometimes at short notice depending on the demands of the business, it may simply be impossible to fulfil your child commitments.

This can be the source of high conflict: understandably so. If you had planned for your children to be away during half term with your ex and so booked a short break for yourself, only for your ex to say that they can no longer make it because of work, understandably you may not be best pleased. If this pattern is repeated, tension grows and with it, resentment.

How then to manage this problem? There is no easy solution.

However, experience has taught me that while lawyers can assist in crafting solutions and sometimes are better at communicating (yes, we are not all rottweilers with keyboards), there is also a role for a more therapeutic approach. If these tensions persist, then the conflict will spill over, and the children will undoubtedly be affected.

If this is combined with different parenting styles, you can have a situation in which children become suddenly resistant to spending time with the other parent. This can result in all contact stopping at its worst. The parent with care often says the children simply do not want to spend time with you and you know that is not true and so blame that parent for poisoning the children’s minds.

The first casualty in this situation is communication. Rebuilding communication can be done with lawyers, through a court order or varying arrangements by agreement. Experienced family practitioners often avoid the worst excesses of Kramer v Kramer (if you are old enough to remember that iconic film) with a more conciliatory child-centred approach.

The input of other related professionals, whether they be therapists (family or individual) or divorce coaches who may themselves have the experience of going through a separated or blended family situation will assist in rebuilding trust and better communication.

These are tools which we can draw together in a holistic package to resolve these problems before they become entrenched and cause your children harm.

If you would like to know more about this, please contact one of our team of expert lawyers to assist you further.

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