Putting your children first
Agreeing with your child's other parent might not be easy, but focussing on how you will organise looking after your children is vital for their wellbeing.
Here are some things all separating parents should keep in mind:
Change is unsettling
Children find change difficult to cope with and thrive on stability and a regular routine. At the very least, this means knowing whom they're going to be with, when and where.
Explain any new arrangements to them, so they can understand what is happening and why.
Agreements vs. court orders
It's often better to reach an agreement without going to court. Going to court is expensive and stressful for everyone involved, including your children. Voluntary arrangements that are mutually agreed tend to work better and last longer.
Being able to reach agreement will also help reassure your children that you're both willing to work together to put their needs first.
You can also, if you wish, make a legal commitment without going to court. Ask your solicitor about drawing up and registering a Minute of Agreement.
Setting the tone for the future
There will be lots of times when you need to speak with your child's other parent to make sure the arrangements you've made are working.
A good Parenting Plan sets out how and when you will communicate about your children's needs, as well as detailing the practical arrangements you make for them. The effort you put in to reaching an agreement now will stand you all in good stead for the future.
Children have a right to be involved in matters that affect their life…
Discuss any changes that are taking place with your children. What would they like to happen? What do they think about the arrangements you and their other parent are suggesting? They may have useful ideas of their own. When things can't
be arranged just as they'd want, explaining why will help them to adjust and accept new ways of living. The right of children to be involved in matters that affect them is one that applies throughout their lives and not just while parents separate. Make sure that they have opportunities to be involved on an ongoing basis.
This right is acknowledged internationally in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in Scottish Law in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
… but don't ask them to take responsibility for life-changing decisions
Children often (wrongly) think that they're to blame for family break-ups and feel deeply guilty as a result.
Listening to and taking on board their wishes is important, but making them responsible for decisions that will have a major impact on family life risks making any guilty feelings far worse – especially if things don't work out.
Sensitivity regarding new partners
Children can find it hard to accept a parent's new partners – as can their other parent. Children may resent any time you spend with a new partner, or feel that if they start to like them they're betraying their other parent.
Children can also form strong bonds with new people in their lives and be upset if the new partnership splits up.
Many parents only introduce new partners to their children (and their other parent) when they're sure the relationship will last. Whenever you feel the time is right, it's important to take things slowly.
You may need to reassure children that your new partner is not a 'replacement' for their other parent and that they'll still be able to see them as before.
To request a hard copy of this publication, email YourParentingPlan@gov.scot