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The Importance of ABC

A is for attitude. B is for behaviour. C is for child focused.

If you are separating or separated and arrangements for the children are in dispute, it´s natural to be anxious, stressed and sometimes angry. Unrestrained emotions cause people to have poor judgment, and sadly, that can be devastating to their case.

If you only pick up one thing from our guides, let it be that a reasonable attitude, good behaviour and remaining child focused are the most important components to a successful outcome. It´s common sense, yes, but due to the raw emotions that exist at the time of separation, something which easily gets forgotten (including by legal advisors).

ABC

Attitude

You may feel that the other parent has treated you appallingly, but the court is primarily interested in the future arrangements for the children. Don´t see court proceedings as an opportunity to run down, insult or denigrate your ex-partner. It isn´t helpful. If there are behaviours which have negatively impacted on the children, then it may be valid to raise them as matters for the court to consider in determining the future arrangements for the children. Two questions for you to consider though. Are the concerns real or due to anxiety, and are they serious concerns? If the answer is ´no´ to either of those questions, you´re probably best to leave them out.

A common fault of litigants, when they prepare their case and arguments, is flooding them with irrelevances which the court simply isn´t interest in. This risks two things, making the parent look unreasonable and obscuring the strong points of their argument.

Go into court seeking fair and reasonable child focused solutions and you´re more likely to gain the court´s sympathy and respect. Go in looking for a fight, and you´re likely to get bruised by the experience.

It isn´t unusual to see statements and hear oral evidence where the party spends the entire time either denigrating their ex-partner, or focusing solely on their ex-partner´s arguments and allegations. While you may need to address allegations, you also need to present your own arguments and keep these central to what you say. Keep these child focused. If you want more time with your children or to protect or enforce the time your have, don´t forget to include ´why´ your proposed arrangements are in the children´s best interests. The court has only a limited time to read and hear evidence. Make what you say or write succinct and clear, and most important, child focused.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Court, gave the following advice relating to cases where one parent seeks to influence or alienate the child against the other:

"You may think he is an absolute monster. You may think she is an absolute ´blankety blank´. The risk you are running is, that if you carry on like this, your child suddenly one day will realise what went wrong. And when the child is old enough he may walk out. He may say a plague on both your houses. You’ve ruined my life. You’ve done what Larkin famously said, you’ve "fucked me up". I’m off. You’re both as bad as each other.
I ask them, "do you want to spend your declining years alone, hated by your child. It may take 5 years, it may take 20 years but for god´s sake think about that. The reality is that sooner or later the child is going to want to seek out that monster or that bitch. The child will then discover she or he is not as bad as you made out. That will have two effects. One is that there’ll be an increased wish of the child to see the other parent. The other is that the child in that circumstance will condemn you for giving a false impression. You are running a terrible, terrible risk"."

Walk into court with the wrong attitude, with unrestrained anger or paranoia, and have it influence what you say and do, and you run the immediate risk of:

If you have concerns and if they are genuinely important, make them factual and relate them to how those concerns impact on the children, but be reasonable in how you do it. Remember that a court will consider whether parents are thinking of their child´s welfare, and whether either or both are capable and willing to promote the child´s relationship with the other parent and wider family.

When considering any course of action, consider the risks and rewards of each, and not as how you (in your emotionally involved state) will view your decision, but how someone else will see it who isn´t personally involved and emotionally caught up in the situation. It´s not an easy task for parties in court, but it is essential.

If you need help in managing stress and emotions, refer to our guides below:

No one is suggesting you need to do whatever your ex partner says, but at least be polite, and yes, even if it feels false and unnatural. The longer your dispute with them goes on, the angrier you feel, the more they and you react to each other, the unhappier your life will be. Such things are toxic, not just for you, but your children. Hopefully, in time, those feelings will subside, and if you remain polite to your ex-partner, they´re less likely to be hostile in the future. Improvements are likely to take some time, but they can and do happen.


Behaviour

If your ex-partner starts arguing with you, swearing at you, shouting at you, walk away. You have a choice whether or not to engage. If your children are present, you should not engage in an argument regardless of the provocation.

Don´t start repeatedly calling the police on your ex-partner. If they are violent and assault you, fair enough, but there are occasions when parents seem to call the police at every opportunity, and the court, rightly, forms a view that this is being done tactically. The same is true for reporting your ex-partner to social services due to things the children say which are misinterpreted.

If papers need serving on your ex-partner, do it by recorded delivery, not in person. Avoid rather than seek out confrontational situations.

While some recommend you record conversations with your ex-partner (and everyone else sometimes), this can make you come across as paranoid. Unless the person you recorded is aware you are recording them, it´s questionable whether you'd be allowed to enter the recordings into evidence anyway.

Don´t get into arguments/confrontation at the school or nursery. Be cordial and polite to the other parent at such things as school parent´s evenings, sports days, plays and other of your children´s events. Think of how an argument impacts on them, as well as the impression others will form of you.

Cases are wrecked by aggressive and combative behaviour. Cases are wrecked by parents intent on punishment rather than resolution. The ones who scream unfairness at the system while wanting their partner jailed over a single day of lost contact and then can´t understand why the court believes them controlling and upholds that non-molestation order. The ones who glare at their ex-partner throughout proceedings. The ones who complain about bias but walk into court expecting the whole system to be weighed against them. The ones who throw insults at the people who decide their children´s arrangements. The ones who slag off their ex-partner all over social media. The ones who stalk their ex-partner´s ´friends lists´ and then contact them to say how bad that parent is. The ones who make false allegations. The ones who are violent or who damage their ex-partner´s property. The parent ´devastated´ at losing a leave to remove case who has shown themselves to be nothing but hostile to contact... and the examples go on and on, but at the core, are the wrong attitude and bad behaviour.

Be very careful of email and texts, and hitting the send button before you´ve thought through what you want to say. Engage the mental pause button, and if responding to something which has upset you, wait before replying until you can think about your response more objectively. If you can, take advice.

Be aware of the restrictions about what you can and can´t say about your case and who you can discuss it with:

Confidentiality in Court

Remember the people involved in decisions about your children are human. If you argue with them, insult them, speak over them and disrespect them, you´re playing with fire. If they say something that is wrong, raise it by all means, but (if in court) when it´s your turn to speak, and do it reasonably.


Child focused

Remember that the court considers arrangements for the child, not the parents. The main type of order is a Child Arrangements Order (not a Parents Arrangement Order). The court must consider the child´s welfare as the paramount consideration. Cases are not about your time with the child or your rights, but the child´s time with you (and other important people in their life), and their rights and needs.

When you present your case, ensure you do so in consideration of the Welfare Checklist.

The Welfare Checklist sets out a number of factors which the court must consider when deciding arrangements for the child.

Welfare Checklist

Remember that while you and your ex-partner have a right to family life, your child´s come first, as do their welfare needs. Build your case in support of your child´s welfare, and you´re headed in the right direction. It´s not enough to say you want "this much" time with your child. If you set out how you support your child´s welfare when they are with you, in terms of family time, support with their schooling and socialising, their extra-curricular activities, sport, music, social activities etc, you present a much stronger and more child focused argument.

Always speak positively about the other parent to your child. Doing otherwise causes them harm.

Remember your ABCs.

In each decision you make there are a further three simple letters to remember... LBW. Nothing to do with cricket, but Language, Body language and Words. What you say, how you say it, how you appear and the words you use all form a part of evidence which the judge will consider. Remember it!

Whether a judge, social worker, CAFCASS officer or court expert, their only opportunity to form an impression of you comes from the other party´s evidence and often more importantly, your own (which is formed from what you say, how you say it and your body language.

LBW

Language and Words

When in court, the judge considers both written and oral (verbal) evidence. Be acutely aware that as with any human being, that judge will be influenced by not only what you say, but how you say it, and whether your body language supports or contradicts what you´re saying.

Others involved in proceedings will also be influenced by such things.

Consider as an example, if CAFCASS do a report, and you find they´ve made a factual error. You can respond in several ways:

  1. You can fire off a complaint to their manager, say they are lying. Say they are biased. Say they are unprofessional.
  2. or

  3. You can write into the CAFCASS office, asking for the error to be corrected, and also raise the matter in court if the correction is not made. Ideally do this within a position statement but only if the error is serious.

If you go for option 1, you risk alienating the officer, getting their back up, and making them biased. It supports whatever allegations have been made about your being aggressive, unreasonable and controlling. If you go for option 2, you address the matter calmly and reasonably. It presents a contrast to any allegations made against you. You´re more likely to get people to accept what you say.

Consider how you want the court to perceive you. Do you want to be seen as an angry or aggressive person, or someone calm and reasonable. Ideally, you want the court to view you as a reasonable and caring parent. In your statement, don´t refer to the other parent (who you used to sleep with!) as "The Respondent" or "Mr or Mrs X", use their first name. Don´t use the words "my child" but "our child". Even better, use the children´s names.

You will be stressed by the court proceedings. It is human to be. That said, that doesn´t give you free reign to be rude, abusive, or aggressive. If you are, you will damage your case.


Body Language

While in court (and if meeting CAFCASS outside of court) people will notice your body language. Glaring at your ex-partner in court is foolish. Pay attention while people are speaking. If someone is saying something in court which you disagree with, a simple shake of the head is sufficient. Don´t roll your eyes and worse, don´t interrupt. You should get an opportunity to put your side later and answer anything that´s been said.


Your Inner Dialogue

In relation to your dispute with your ex-partner, lose the words "fight", "battle", "war", "bitch", "bastard" and worse. This is not a fight, even if your ex-partner is trying to stop you see your children. Having those words rattling around your head will influence what you say and your body language. The appropriate thoughts are "I am seeking to make arrangements which are in the best interests of our children". Angry thoughts lead to angry words and body language. Control it, and if you need help, get some counselling.


While these matters are undeniably tactical and strategic, they´re also child focused and sensible. They´re not a strategy just for court, but post-separation dealings with your ex-partner thereafter.

Remaining polite lessens the chance of return to court. It lessens the risk of future disputes. Your ex-partner may not immediately engage in similar behaviour, and for both of you, it may seem very unnatural for some time, and yes, you may have to do some acting. It will however make your children´s lives happier, cause them less harm than if you argue or are abusive to your ex-partner, and the fewer negative emotions you carry, the happier you yourself will be.

There´s a wise old Chinese proverb... "If you want revenge, dig two graves." In respect of disputes over children and revenge, don´t forget to dig ones for the children, as they´ll be damaged too.

We have detailed guides to help you with everything from mediation, to Resolving Disputes, to addressing Crisis Situations. Life does improve, but if you take onboard the advice on this page, your chances of a good outcome will be greater, you´ll have an easier life, and your kids will be happier and better adjusted too.


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Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen´s printer for Scotland.

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