Why setting realistic expectations is vital
At Restored Lives, we meet hundreds of separating parents who are working through all the issues associated with parenting children after a relationship has broken down. It is the most painful and traumatic aspect of breakups for parents. The current UK system is completely broken, rather than supporting families to separate well it compounds the hurt and leaves children and their parents in limbo for extended periods of time, or worse, it completely severs contact between children and one of their parents. The transition to separated parenting is never likely to be easy but much more must be done to support families and limit the damage to children.
One major barrier to positive separations is parents’ expectations of separation, likely financial settlements, and arrangements for the children. These are often totally unrealistic. As part of our broader campaign, Restored Lives is calling for a framework that sets realistic expectations from the outset. Created by experts, and based on historical data the framework would set out what a fair and sensible separation looks like in terms of finances, property, and, most importantly, arrangements for children for different types of circumstances. A framework that sets realistic expectations from the start will help parents reach an agreement more quickly with less conflict.
There is a wealth of historical information that could be used to create a database of past rulings on financial matters. By analysing Form E data for cases where judges have made a ruling, the most likely outcome, based on the relevant circumstances for a specific couple, could be created at the start of the process. Although naturally, a final ruling may vary slightly, it would set realistic expectations and therefore be less likely to draw the process of negotiation longer than is sensible.
A similar approach could be taken with arrangements for children. Past rulings could be analysed, in combination with recommendations from experts, to create a reasonable and sensible outcome that puts the needs of the children first. Then parents would enter into negotiations with more realistic expectations and would waste less time arguing for something they will never achieve.
Expectation vs reality
Many expect a Hollywood style court battle where their ex is punished for any perceived wrongdoing with a punitive financial settlement or less access to children. If we are hurting we want our day in court we want “justice.” For many, it can be a complete shock that the court is not there to ‘judge’ the relationship and that any bad behaviour bears no weight on the outcome of a settlement or the arrangements for children.
They may hold very strong views of children being with Mum or Dad as the default or feel entitled to see their children every day, every Christmas or birthday. When you are hurt and feeling vulnerable it can be hard to flip your thinking to focus on the needs of children and their rights to a positive relationship with both parents. You might also believe your ex is a bad influence on your children and proactively seek to reduce contact.
Solicitors can also exacerbate the gap in expectations by giving a biased view of what might be possible for a client to achieve. This might be done to win the client’s business or confidence or simply because they do not get to see both sides of the case at an early stage.
Although legally we have moved on from the idea of “custody” in favour of “parental responsibility” parental perceptions haven’t always caught up. Too many parents fight over their ‘rights’, rather than cooperate over shared parental ‘responsibilities’ and have unrealistic expectations of how co-parenting will work.
When you’re hurting it can be very tempting to try to punish your ex by bad-mouthing them to the children or limiting access to the children. This isn’t even always an intentional act but an extension of the animosity between you.
In the initial days and weeks of a painful separation, it can take time for the full reality of what separated parenting will mean. It is hugely painful to accept that separating will inevitably mean seeing less of your children. The current system expects parents to be able to completely set aside their feeling during this emotional tsunami and speak realistically about their children’s future whilst working out what is equitable.
Parental conflict is damaging for children so the process must help reduce it
Legal battles create parental conflict that is directly harmful to children who are rarely given a voice within the process. We need to act quickly so that we do not have another generation who have to deal with the harm this process has inflicted upon them.
We need a clear way to resolve all children’s issues outside the court system. A framework for the resolution of children issues should also be created at the earliest stage to clarify what each parent can expect in terms of their parental responsibilities and how often their children will spend time with each parent.
What is Restored Lives Campaigning for?
Our Change.org campaign is calling for six key changes to the current process including calling for – The creation of a framework, by experts that sets realistic expectations from the outset of what a fair separation looks like both in terms of finances, property and arrangements for children would reduce damaging conflict.
If this resonates with you and you would like to join our campaign please sign the petition at Change.org
Are you or is someone you know going through a breakup? Or perhaps they have been separated or divorced and are still struggling with the fallout? Click here to register for our next online course.