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Divorcing parents ‘must put their children’s needs first’

The charity Childline has urged divorcing parents to put the needs of their children first however difficult the situation may become as the marriage comes to an end.

The first few months of the year invariably see an increase in divorce inquiries from couples who have reached breaking point over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. It’s feared that pressures brought on by the recession could put more relationships under strain.

Childline says it has had numerous calls from children whose families are in turmoil. They tell counsellors that they are frightened by arguments between their parents and feel as though they are being made to choose between mum and dad. Some even feel the marriage break-up is their fault.

Divorce lawyers often come across these situations and will always try to advise parents against actions that may put extra pressure on their children. The first thing parents must do is put their emotions aside and be prepared to compromise to find a fair and workable solution.

Be prepared to negotiate over matters like where the children should live and the amount of contact they should have with each of you. Make sure you get good legal advice. This will help you reach a settlement which is good for your children and fair to both of you.

If negotiations become difficult then mediation may help. This is where a trained mediator like a solicitor acts as a kind of broker and helps smooth the way to an amicable agreement. Arrangements made in this way are less stressful and more likely to stick because they are voluntary.

If a negotiated settlement proves impossible then it may be necessary to go to court. It’s important to realise, however, that the courts place the needs of the children ahead of what parents may consider to be their rights. In fact, the law thinks primarily in terms of parental responsibility rather than parental rights.

Before making any decision, the court will work through a welfare checklist to determine what is best for the child. It will look at age and background, emotional needs, educational requirements and any other matters it considers relevant. These factors are likely to weigh more heavily than any personal preferences put forward by mum or dad as to where the child should live or how much time they should spend with each parent.

Once a court makes a decision then both parents must abide by it. Parents who try to thwart a court order can find that they have their contact rights reduced.

Thankfully, it should never come to that if both parents behave reasonably and follow the correct legal procedures.

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