Take it from a kid from a broken family… This is what we want our parents to know
In a divorce, the only thing that parents should really focus on is the welfare of their children. Take it from someone who comes from a broken family... this is what divorced parents should be doing. Brought to you by GJC Law.
You may be in the middle of a divorce. That means you go from being married to single, from legally wed to legally not. But at no point of this do you stop being mother and father to your kids.
It is easy to lose sight of this, especially if the divorce is not an amicable one. Many people remain adamant in getting the “most” out of everything and “winning”. Sometimes, this is done at the expense of their own children. But take it from a kid who comes from a broken home, who has grown up enough to know… I don’t blame my parents for divorcing and I am grateful it was done in a peaceful manner.
You would want your kids to feel the same way too.
If a marriage has broken down, typically a lot of bitterness and anger that arises between spouses may spill over into their roles as parents. Two parties who can no longer co-operate and co-exist may struggle with the reality that they must continue to co-parent even after a divorce.
Children are caught in the middle. And they may become pawns in the struggle between feuding spouses, forced to choose a side in the separation or encouraged to turn against one or both parents.
When two parties are caught up in their own emotional turmoil, they may not realise the toil the divorce takes on the children. They also may not take into account the psychological and emotional stress children may suffer from the friction between their parents. Let me just tell you that this stress carries on to adulthood and may even affect your kid’s marriage in the future.
To prevent that, consider taking these tips by the Family Justice Court (FJC) to heart.
The FJC views the children as the innocent victims of divorce and recognizes the problems and risks that arise when feuding parents drag their children their dispute. The FJC has, time and again, emphasised that the most important consideration in any divorce is the welfare of the children.
Parents who are caught up in the emotional turmoil and anger of their divorce may forget to prioritize the welfare of their children. Below are four practical tips for prioritising the welfare of your children during a divorce.
1. Remember that children need both parents
Children benefit from having two parents who are actively involved in their lives. The law on custody, care and control of children in a divorce is grounded on the principle of joint parental responsibility.
The FJC takes the view that the interests of the children are best served by letting them enjoy the love, care and support of both parents. Understandably, children may fear that they will lose one of their parents in the divorce or will be forced to choose between them. But children should be reassured that both parents will continue to have an active in their lives and will be protecting their interests.
To preserve the role of both parents in the children’s lives, the FJC will almost always award a joint custody order in a divorce. A joint custody order preserves the legal right of both parents to jointly make important decisions in the children’s lives such as decisions about their education and medical needs.
A joint custody order signals the parents that the FJC expects them to co-operate to promote the child’s best interest. It also reassures the children that both parents will continue to be involved in their lives.
Of course, this is done if both parents are agreeable to it. As parents, you should do whatever you can to provide what is best for your kids, even in the event of a divorce.
2. Present a united front
It is important for parents to present a united front. This is even more important during the breakdown of a marriage. Children need stability, love, and guidance. They are also easily confused or frustrated if they receive mixed messages from their parents.
It is important to avoid undermining or circumventing the decisions or rules of the other parent even if you disagree with their parenting style. Disagreements over parental decisions or styles should be discussed privately and resolved without involving the children. In this respect, it is important that the acrimony of the divorce is not allowed to pour over into the parties’ communications about the children. Parties must learn to communicate as co-parents, not as ex-spouses.
When it comes to the daily care of the children, the FJC often makes an order for sole care and control to one parent and grants access to the other parent. Sole care and control means that one parent has primary responsibility for the day-to-day decision-making and caring for the needs of the children including their meals, transport and personal care. The other parent will have access to the children for a certain period of time each week.
It is important for both parents to support the other parents’ role in the children’s lives. The parent with access should not undermine or circumvent the decisions of the parent with care and control. Likewise, the parent with care and control should not interfere with the other parent's access and should be flexible and cooperative about access.
A little fun tip from a kid with divorced parents who may not always agree on parenting styles: It’s easy to manipulate the situation to get my way if both parents don’t present a united front.
3. A bad spouse is not a bad parent
Do not use the children to punish an ex-spouse. The only ones getting punished in that situation are the children. Do not deny the other parent access to the children. Also, do not criticize the other parent in front of the children in an effort to alienate them from that parent.
A bad spouses is not a bad parent. The breakdown of the marital relationship and the conduct of a spouse in a marriage is not a good reason to harm the parental relationship between parent and child.
Parents love their children and want what is best for them. A person who behaved poorly as a spouse will not necessarily be a bad parent. What's more, a child’s relationship and respect for both of their parents is an important part of their development. So children should not be influenced to think negatively towards their parents.
The FJC will not condone behaviour which is intended to alienate or deny access to one parent. In some cases, the FJC has even reversed its care and control order to protect the relationship of the alienated parent with the children.
When the marriage breaks down, parents must be conscious about the message that they are sending to the children about the other parent whether through their words or conduct. It is in everyone's best interest for the children to respect and look up to both parents. This is especially true in the midst of divorce.
4. Be reasonable about maintenance
Parents have a joint responsibility to maintain their children financially. In a divorce, this obligation is given effect through an order for one party to pay maintenance to the other.
It is important to remember that maintenance is for the benefit and welfare of the children. The parent who is paying maintenance should not begrudge this obligation or deny this financial provision for the children. On the other hand, the parent who is requesting maintenance should be reasonable about the amount and expectation for maintenance. Maintenance whether being paid or requested should not be used as a vehicle to “punish” or “exploit” the other parent.
Money is often a primary point of contention and acrimony in divorce. When considering maintenance for the children, it must be remembered that the welfare of the children is the priority.
Conclusion: Divorce the spouse, not the children
While the FJC will take steps to protect the children’s interests, ultimately, parents must make the decision not to allow their discord to impact their children. More importantly, parents must realise that when going through a divorce, it is not merely about who is going to pay for the children’s expenses, or who gets to “keep” the children. Rather, parents should ensure that children are given security and stability. Parents must learn to co-parent effectively and to provide the support their children need in two separate households. Again, a divorce terminates the relationship between spouses, not between parent and child.
Ms Gloria James-Civetta has been appointed by the Family Justice Courts and the Singapore Mediation Centre as a Family Mediator, Child Representative lawyer, Parenting Coordinator and Collaborative Family Practitioner. For more information on divorce and children related issues, please contact Ms. Gloria James-Civetta and her team of lawyers at:
Gloria James-Civetta & Co.
25 North Bridge Road, #03-02
EFG Bank Building
This article is contributed by Beverly Lim Tian Ying, trainee lawyer, Gloria James-Civetta & Co.