11th December 2017
Over 7 million viewers tuned in to watch the recent series finale of BBC One’s gripping production Doctor Foster.
Series one focuses largely on GP Gemma Foster’s desire for revenge after discovering that her husband is having an affair, and in that infamous dinner party scene viewers revelled as cheating husband Simon got his comeuppance. However, in series two Gemma and Simon’s bitter feud makes for increasingly uncomfortable viewing, as it becomes clear that the couple’s young teenage son is being caught in the cross-fire.
Sadly it is often the case the child is overlooked in the midst of relationship breakdown and their best interests ignored.
Divorce can be a hugely stressful and upsetting time for the adults involved, however it is important that regardless of any ill-feeling between them parents are able to put on a united front for their child and remember that their role as co-parents continues.
It is also important for parents to be mindful of the central role that they each have to play in their child’s life. This is firmly reflected in legislation and case law. When a court is asked to determine issues concerning the upbringing of a child, such as with whom they are to live or otherwise spend time, there is a strong presumption that both parents should be involved. The presumption is rebuttable if a court is persuaded that it would be contrary to the child’s best interests, however an extremely high threshold is set in that regard. It does not automatically follow, for example, that a parent who has been violent towards the other should no longer spend time with their child (though a court will carefully consider whether appropriate safeguards need to be put in place in those circumstances).
A family solicitor will encourage their client to put their own emotions to one side and focus, objectively, on the needs of the child following a relationship breakdown. Parents should speak positively of each other, and the child should feel able to discuss the other parent and time spent with them without fear that this will upset the other parent, or cause them to become angry or jealous.
It goes without saying that parents should not involve their child in ‘adult conversations’ such as those in relation to the divorce or financial matters. If the family are still living together in one house then such discussions should take place between parents at appropriate times and not in front of the child. It is likely to be in the whole family’s interests if communications can be kept constructive and civil.
A young child in particular may find the relationship breakdown scary and confusing, and it is important to reassure them that although day-to-day life may change, moving forward they remain loved by both parents and both parents will always be there for them. If a child (of any age) is displaying signs of struggling to cope then it may be helpful to seek professional support, for example from a GP or child counsellor, and it can also be useful to speak to the child’s school and make them aware of the situation so that they can help put appropriate support in place.
Many parents assume that the court will automatically make an order in relation to their child as part of the divorce, however that is not the case. Divorce and finance proceedings are entirely separate from proceedings concerning a child, and matters are not heard by the court ‘as a package’. Also it is not always necessary for solicitors to be instructed in relation to arrangements for a child. Though many people will choose to have a solicitor represent them in relation to the divorce and financial matters it does not necessarily follow that discussions with the other parent regarding the child need to take place through solicitors as well. If both parties agree on where the child is to live and when the other parent will see them then there is no need for third parties such as solicitors or the court to be involved. Equally, even if both parties are not in agreement it may not be the case that solicitors are needed, and family solicitors will encourage parents to endeavour to resolve issues between themselves and agree a mutually acceptable (and child-centric) way forward. Mediation can be a helpful alternative forum for reaching an agreement.
In the unfortunate event that an agreement cannot be reached then the Family team at Mundays are here to help.
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