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Co-parenting after a separation PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Julian Sant Fournier   
Friday, August 19, 2011 , by Julian Sant Fournier

The other day The Times reported on the case of a separated father who felt deprived of his right to spend time with his 10-year-old son because the access hours granted by the court clashed with his working schedule. This is not the first time that one of the parents has ended up in this situation and, unfortunately, it will not be the last. In my experience of working at the Family Court as mediator for the past seven years, these cases are on the increase.

The situation is brought about when the couple separating end up disagreeing on one of the most important matters in the separation process: the children. In certain situations, the children are used as pawns and the parents disagree about what is the right thing to do in the best interests of the child. In such instances, the case is referred to the judge and, with the assistance of a children’s advocate or social work, the judge makes a decision.

Once the parents refer the case to the judge, the reality is that they would possibly be repeating this procedure time and time again, creating unnecessary hardship for themselves and, most of all, for their children. The reality is that if both parents individually, without any communication between them, do what they think is best to help their children the situation may end up causing great pain and stress for all involved.

Given the number of relationships with children that are breaking up, the workload at the court is on the increase.

So is there a solution to such a delicate and sensitive issue? One thing in the relationship of a couple that does not change in a separation is the fact that both partners remain parents of their children. Couples who separate but continue to work cooperatively as parents have a very positive effect on their children’s development and adjustments to living in two separate households. This concept is called co-parenting and is used to describe separated parents who are sensitive to the children’s distress and who learn the techniques that avoid putting children in the middle.

The majority of couples separating want to continue with their role as parents. The problem is how. The reality is that, in today’s world, parenting when two partners live together is not an easy task and when the couple separates the challenge is even greater. Co-parenting involves discussing the needs of the children and avoiding conflict in areas such as money, access, holidays, education, medical, discipline and several other matters relating to the upbringing of the children.

Judging by my experience at the Family Court, once a couple decides to adopt co-parenting, the results have been truly amazing. It is such a satisfaction to meet the separated parents after a period of time and listen to their experience of how things with the children have changed for the better and how matters have calmed down.

The benefits of co-parenting to the children, parents and society are immense: when mothers and fathers work together everyone benefits. The children are more likely to adapt to the separation, they feel secure, benefit from the consistency that the parents adopt even though they are living in two separate households and better understand how to solve problems without referring the parenting issues to the Family Court for a decision.

However, there are situations where co-parenting will not work – in cases where there may have been domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse or, primarily, if one of the parents fails to cooperate.

I believe we need to raise the awareness of co-parenting at a national level and do something concrete and take real action to help parents who are separating.

It was good to hear that that this topic was raised in Parliament during the divorce debate. I believe we need to focus on helping parents by education, parenting courses for separating couples and, possibly, a national conference on this topic. Ideally, this concept would be taken up by the new Committee in Parliament that focuses on the needs of the family.

I am confident that, once the concept of co-parenting becomes an integral part of society, we would be solving a major cause of pain for parents and their children.


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