Divorce and separation are major life changing events for the adults involved but they can also be very hurtful and stressful events in the lives of children. Whether unmarried or married, lesbian, gay or heterosexual, many couples with children come to a point in their lives where a decision is to be made to end a relationship. It is hard to predict the impact of the family breakdown on everyone involved but more often than not there is a degree of hurt felt by the parents and children alike. It is easy for others to offer advice about the best way to approach this and trying to be amicable is best for all. However, this is not always easily done because of deeply held emotions that may feel raw at the time.
Ending the relationship does not mean an end to the parental relationship that adults have with their children. Although you may think that the decision to break up suggests the end of conflict in a relationship, conflict often continues as you try to sort out arrangements around children, money and housing. Disagreements may continue but the way that they are approached can make a difference to the way that your children experience the break up.
Contact counts and it is very important for a child to be able to see both parents and, in most cases, be encouraged to build a relationship with the non-resident parent. What works for one family may not necessarily work for another. You might also need to consider what sort of contact is appropriate - this could be direct contact where the child sees the non-resident parent, or indirect contact via calls or letters.
Working out contact arrangements
Working out contact arrangements can be a difficult thing to do especially if there is still resentment between parents. However, the child's feelings should be the focal point in driving forward these arrangements as amicably as possible. There are two routes that can be taken when arranging contact - you can opt for a formal or informal arrangement. If you choose an informal arrangement, there can be a degree of flexibility but it requires commitment and consistency from both parents. You could ask a mutual friend or family member to help facilitate the arrangements so they can be worked out amicably and fairly. This will also help to ensure the focus is kept on contact arrangements rather than drifting into other issues. It might also be helpful to write the agreed contact arrangements down and keep a record of this.
If you choose a formal arrangement, this could be either voluntary mediation or perhaps through a court order. This can be a very expensive route to take but the circumstances surrounding the family breakdown may require this. It can also take a lot of time and patience. If you choose to take things formally, it is important to get a recommended lawyer who specialises in family law. It is important to seek advice from impartial organisations too. Children's Legal Centre and Families Need Fathers can offer further advice on legal aid, parental responsibility and what to expect if you go to court.
New partner, new family?
When you find a new partner, you might feel as if it would be easier to start afresh as a new family if contact with your ex is difficult or makes you uncomfortable. As far as your children are concerned, your ex is one of a kind and they would feel lost if all ties were cut. You can stop being a partner but you can never stop being a parent. Your new partner may be a good carer but they cannot replace a parent. You can be a happy and strong family at the same time as letting your children keep in touch with a parent who doesn't live with them.
When your ex finds a new partner it's understandable that you may feel angry and upset, particularly if you’re still struggling to come to terms with the split. Unless you have real concerns about your children’s safety with your ex’s partner, you may have to let go and put your children's wellbeing above your own feelings.