While you don’t see the below factors in every family law parenting matter, here are some examples of approaches to parenting arrangements that are generally best avoided.
Taking a “let’s wait and see how things go” approach in a high-risk dynamic
We regularly have clients approach us after they have taken a back-seat approach to their parenting arrangement for an extended period of time. This could be a few months, or it could be a few years. Parents will often try to negotiate parenting arrangements directly with their ex-spouse in an attempt to maintain an amicable relationship and reduce conflict. Indeed, many are able to do this successfully and never need the services of a family lawyer. Unfortunately, especially in high-risk dynamics, we find that this approach often has parents creating a rod for their own back.
By way of example, we have had a series of clients who have allowed children to continue spending significant time with the other parent, following explosive or abusive incidents occurring in front of children, following episodes of drug or alcohol misuse, or following admissions to hospital for mental health issues.
We often see clients who have wanted to give the other parent the benefit of the doubt, and have waited to see if the other parent could rise to the challenge of parenting the children in a harmonious and risk-free way. Indeed, we have clients who tell us that the parenting arrangement is the only routine, stable arrangement in their ex-spouse’s life. Our client’s may not have wanted to risk destabilising their ex-spouse further by interfering with the parenting arrangement.
While parents should be commended for considering the welfare of their ex-spouse and attempting to reduce conflict to which the children may be exposed, be warned. If a client later decides to file a Court application in relation to parenting, their period of non-action may be taken as an indication that the other parent does not pose a great risk to the children. After all, if they were that big a risk, would the client really have left the children in their care?
Refusing to take up the opportunity for supervised time
Requests for a parent to take up supervised time are usually made on a legitimate basis, in circumstances where there is a very real risk to the child of remaining in a parent’s unsupervised care.
In some instances, one parent may seek to impose a supervision requirement on the other parent, due to their own fears and mistrust, or in an attempt to gain a strategic advantage by casting the other parent as being inherently risky. In those circumstances, the parent who is the subject of the request may rightfully feel hurt and resistant to agreeing to the children’s time with them being supervised.
If it is a matter of supervised time or no time, the parent should consider whether it is really such a big deal having their time be supervised for a period. Having a third party present may help relieve some of the pressure on the relationship between parent and child, especially if there has been a significant break in their contact.
Professional supervisors will usually write a report after each visitation. Those reports can be very helpful evidence of all the positive interactions between parent and child that occur during visitation.
Lay supervisors (such as a friend or trusted family member) can be another option to give the requesting party some security that the child’s safety needs will be met, while being less costly for the parties.
Supervised time often leads to unsupervised time. Parents should consider this before refusing a request. That may be preferable to spending money and time attempting to negotiate an upfront commencement of unsupervised time.
Leaving children in the full-time care of the other parent at separation, before parenting arrangements are agreed
This is a tricky one. When it is obvious that a relationship is over, many parents feel the need to rip off the band-aid and move out of the former matrimonial home straight away. Often, they will move to temporary accommodation that is unsuitable for housing children for overnight periods, due to space, due to a sense that it is not appropriate to have children in hotel rooms, and due to a desire to reduce chopping and changing the children’s routine.
These are all valid considerations. On the other hand, it sets up an arrangement where the children are living in the full-time care of one parent, and it may be difficult to establish a suitable shared-care parenting regime from that starting point, especially where there are young children.
Another option might be to engage in mediation prior to moving out, or to have both parties leave the former matrimonial home at the same time, rather than one staying in the former matrimonial home and one leaving. Operating a ‘nesting’ arrangement where the children stay in the home and the parents alternate living in the home and living elsewhere, is another option, although may be difficult to maintain in the medium to long term.
Obviously, every matter is different, and there may be a good reason why clients may not have a choice but to follow one of the above approaches.
If you have questions in relation to the best way to handle your family law parenting matter, do not hesitate to contact us.
The information above is provided by way of general guidance. If you require further information that is specific to your circumstances, please telephone us to make an appointment with one of our specialist practitioners who can advise you on any aspect relating to your parenting matter.