Every so often we have a debate on parental rights about whether there should be an automatic assumption that both parents should play an equal role in their children’s lives if they separate or divorce. The debate normally centres around the argument of whether or not the Courts have a bias in favour of the mother. Many aggrieved fathers alleged that care of the children always goes to the mother, she always has the final say or she sees the children most.
Perhaps the focus should be on the notion of shared care rather than either “residence” or “contact”. If one parent has residence and the other person contact it suggests an inequality that there is one parent that is in some way superior to the other or who has more care and control over the children or who is the primary carer. In fact the term primary carer used to be used. Much more the Courts are edging towards the terms shared care or a shared residence order.
Certainly lawyers would prefer these terms as it does imply a degree of equality between the parents. Very often both parents do genuinely want to be fully involved with their children’s lives but practically the children will spend more time with one than the other. This does not in any way lessen the other parent’s role in those children’s lives.
However in all of this debate what is often forgotten is that it is not a semantic argument between the parents, we should not really be focussing on the terminology in order to protect parents feelings; what we should be focussing on is actually what is in the best interests of the children. This is so fundamental that it is actually very often forgotten. Both parents have lawyers who argue on their behalf, generally there is no one speaking for the child.
All too often parents use if not abuse the situation to rehearse arguments between themselves by means of the children.
So although the debate is welcome I really do feel that whatever the terminology used it should be recognised that generally speaking both parents have a role and should continue to have a role in the children’s lives. What actually needs to be reinforced time and time again is that the children too have rights; parents have responsibilities and their rights should actually be subservient to those of the children. One right the children have is that their parents do not argue about or in front of them, in fact better if the parents don’t argue at all because that is never what the children want.
For more information about collaborative law and separation generally, contact Nicky Gough at Cotswold Family Law.
Telephone: 01608 686590