Disputes And The Details of Parenting 

Published on 05 October, 2020 | Emma Dewhurst

The end of a relationship can be a terribly difficult time.

No matter how well-intentioned the individuals involved are, dealing with the breakdown of a marriage or cohabitation which might have lasted many years can produce very raw emotions.

Whilst most of these situations are managed amicably, they do sometimes result in the kind of tensions which are only resolved with the assistance of specialist family lawyers like myself.

Quite often, such disputes are prompted by a difference of opinion over what to others might seem like relatively fine details.

That can be especially true where separated parents are concerned.

As I’ve been telling Emily Dugan, the Social Affairs Correspondent for the Sunday Times (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/c5840278-04ea-11eb-910e-49261a8ea333?shareToken=6b17ad13f480d7181c0a6423aefa888c ), an increasing number of parents have been turning to the courts to sort out disagreements about how to bring up their children.

Myself and my colleagues have recently found ourselves poring over figures produced by the Ministry of Justice.

In particular, our attention was drawn to the number of proceedings in relation to what are known as Specific Issue Orders.

They are orders sought by one parent to determine a specific question which has arisen with a child’s upbringing and can cover a multitude of issues, including whether and where it goes on holiday, its diet, medical treatment and schooling arrangements.

The Ministry’s data shows that the number of applications for Specific Issue Orders rose by more than two-thirds in the five years up to 2019. Furthermore, the number of such orders which were actually made by courts rose by 87 per cent over the same period.

These statistics make only too clear just how difficult it can be for former partners to reach agreement about how their child should be brought up.

From my experience of having dealt with disputes like these over the years, I’m well aware how courts are generally reluctant to become involved in making parenting decisions.

I actually think that it’s quite a reasonable position to take. Judges are not wrong, in my opinion, to expect parents to be able to agree on childcare without needing to go to court.

It’s something which I and my colleagues always try and avoid for a number of reasons.

We regard mediation – sitting around a table with an impartial third party to calmly discuss issues at the heart of a parental dispute – as a more constructive process than standing in a courtroom in front of a judge or bench of magistrates.

Court proceedings can not only hard positions and cause people to dig their heels in.

Even dealing with seemingly straightforward or minor matters can take a considerable amount of time to conclude, especially when we take the delays caused by the coronavirus lockdown into account.

They can also cost several thousand pounds, with the legal fees involved in dealing with more complex matters occasionally running to many times that amount.

Although it can be difficult for the participants to appreciate, many of these issues are fundamentally about the degree of trust – or lack of it – between them.

The perceived problem involving their children becomes a means of exercising whatever grievance or friction remains between them.

It is imperative to remember that, in all cases, a child’s well-being should be the utmost consideration.

Keeping that very firmly in mind might help deter from taking unnecessary and expensive legal action and make for a more positive future relationship with their children and their exes.

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