Making joint decisions for children after divorce and separation

When parents' relationships break up, making arrangements for children can be an emotive issue that can continue to cause difficulties long after the split.

Despite having your children's best interests at heart, it can be very difficult to put this into practice when one parent has been very hurt or there is a level of mistrust.

Although most parents want their children to maintain a relationship with them both, making plans that work can feel like a huge challenge, and the practicalities of making arrangements in the wake of separation can often be the source of further conflict and upset.

It is little wonder that often very short term decisions are made, and longer term or thorny issues are left in the 'too difficult' box. This can mean important issues such as future educational decisions, maintenance issues, decisions over holiday contact and introducing new partners are ignored.

But remember - children are intuitive; they known the issues and a lack of resolution will leave them feeling vulnerable and insecure.

A good way of trying to make sure sensible decisions that put your children first are made after separating is to adhere to a simple, step-by-step process at a meeting, the sole purpose of which is to reach agreement over matters concerning them by removing issues around blame and other potential conflicts such as division of property.

Agreeing the 'rules' of the meeting in advance will help:

  • Exchange thought-through proposals beforehand, in writing if necessary
  • Make sure these are practical and feasible and include contingency cover
  • Agree you will both put the children's needs first
  • Agree that other issues will be left out of the meeting
  • Agree you are both prepared to be flexible

Ideally, a firm programme of contact should be established, and clear rules agreed in relation to decision-making and communication.

Children of separated parents often struggle with insecurity after separation. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, including affecting them socially and academically. However, there is a wealth of evidence to show that children who know exactly what is going to happen and when they are going to see each of their parents, and who feel safe in the knowledge their parents can agree issues concerning them without arguing, are spared a considerable amount of this emotional pain and disruption. They will be far less burdened by the separation and able to focus on getting the best from their individual relationship with both their parents.


What Mumsnetters say

  • "When we got divorced we went to mediation to agree to maintenance and access. The agreement is clear - I must provide him with fair and reasonable access - one night a week and every other weekend. I do that and more (he has the children for five weeks holiday each year)."
  • "If there are children involved, their interests will always come first. It is the children's right to maintain a meaningful relationship with the non-resident parent (NRP) – not the other way around. Children are not possessions to be 'fairly' divided between separating parents. Parents have no rights, only responsibilities. A divorce will not be granted where children are involved unless there are agreed arrangements for finance, and care of the children (Statement of Arrangements for Children). It is obviously quicker and cheaper if this can be agreed but if there is no agreement, the court will make an order (Residence and Contact Orders regarding children, Financial Order or Ancillary Relief in the case of finance)."

  • "You and your partner both have parental responsibility for your child. If you split and can't agree about arrangements for their future care then a court would have to decide, making a residence order."

  • "My children said they wished they had been told more, they hated adults not talking to them and making decisions for them."

  • "It's hard not to get swept up into the hurt and anger ... and it's easy to forget about the small (and not so small) people listening and experiencing what's going on around them. Where care is taken to protect children going through divorce and ensure their best interests are at the forefront of all decisions, I don't think long term damage is done."



This content was created in association with Co-operative Legal Services. More info can be found in their guide on co-parenting here

Last updated: about 3 years ago