When you are going through a divorce or separation, it is common to assume that you know what is best for your children when it comes to who they will live with and what contact they will have with each parent. However, it is important not to forget that children will likely have their own feelings and opinions on the matter that may not necessarily match with yours.
One parent may feel that they should be the one who gets full-time care of their child, but this might not be what their children want. They might want to live with the other parent full time or make the decision over how much time they’ll spend at each parent’s home.
Separation can be hard on children; they might not understand why their parents no longer love each other or will be living together. Furthermore, contact arrangements can be even more challenging as this can involve major upheaval to children’s lives and routines.
Making sure you have your children’s input is extremely important to help them accept the new arrangements and ensure that you maintain a healthy relationship with them, minimising any resentment or unhappy feelings regarding the contact arrangements.
One issue with this is that often children are unsure what it is that they want and may struggle to put forward their thoughts. This can make communication very hard between parents and children. For this reason, understanding how to help your children express their feelings regarding the situation is vital.
The following are some things you can try to help make sure your children are able to express what they would like to happen, so you can take this into consideration and they feel listened to and like they are part of decisions about their future.
1. Ask them what they want
This might seem obvious, but it is something many parents overlook. Having your child express their feelings regarding their living and contact arrangements and other issues surrounding the separation should be one of your top priorities as a parent. For you to do this, you need to clearly ask your child what they want.
It might hurt if they say they want to live with their other parent full-time, but you need to do what is best for them. It is important that your children feel safe expressing their feelings, so you need to try to understand and respect what they say. If you argue, get angry or dismiss their suggestions, they will be less likely to express their feelings in the future.
2. Be open with them
Trying to protect children by not telling them what is going on will often only make matters worse. When parents attempt to be too discreet about a separation, children often feel like it isn’t a matter that they can bring up. If you are open from the beginning in regard to issues that will affect your children, such as contact arrangements, they will likely feel more comfortable to express their feelings.
3. Use open-ended questions
Asking children questions with a yes or no answer, such as “Are you okay?” risks children not feeling able to fully express how they feel. Deep down, they might want to say more and have feelings they would like to discuss but they may possibly need additional help to be able to do so.
Consider wording the questions you direct towards your children so they are open-ended and invite a more in-depth, truthful and thought out answer. It can help them to know that you are there for them, and they might feel more inclined to open up about their feelings on the separation and contact arrangement, meaning you can discuss it further and listen to how they feel in regard to the situation.
4. Set aside any negative feelings regarding your ex-partner
Children are quick to pick up on things, even small comments or expressions. Knowing something is wrong between their parents will likely make them feel uncomfortable as you’re both their parents and they will normally want to avoid picking sides.
Your children may feel like they can’t speak to you about their other parent, such as wanting to see them more. They might feel that if they discuss changing the contact arrangements, that they’ll upset or offend you.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, make it clear to your children that you will never create a divide and that you want them to still have contact with their other parent (if this is appropriate). It is really important for them to be able to feel comfortable and open up more about their feelings and what they want going forward.
5. Clearly explain the reasons behind whatever contact arrangements are decided
While it is important to encourage children to share their thoughts on contact arrangements, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will always be able to do what they want. In many cases, it may not be practical or appropriate to be entirely guided by your children’s feelings.
The important thing is to make sure that your children feel that their views have been heard and respected. If you are not going to be able to do what they asked, it is important to make it clear that you are happy they told you what they wanted, that this has been considered and the reasons behind whatever arrangements have been decided upon.
This approach can help your children to accept the new arrangements, protect your relationship with them and ensure they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts in future.
Book a free first consultation for advice about arrangements for children
At hpjv, we offer a free first consultation on all family matters, including contact arrangements. We also offer fixed fees where appropriate to make sure that you have clarity on how much your matter will cost, removing any unnecessary worry of escalating legal costs.
Get in touch with our child law solicitors in Newport today for further information.