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Split parenting: fewer tears

18 January 16

From emotional meltdown to effective negotiation: the new Parenting Apart programme for separating couples, and how it works, with reference to some early user experiences

by Rosanne Cubitt

Family lawyers are all too well aware of the emotional trauma that often derails attempts to negotiate divorce and separation issues in a calm and reasonable manner. Parents who have decided to separate are overwhelmed by the number of issues they now face, and the stress of having to make plans and arrangements with an ex-partner. The decision to split often comes as a complete shock to one of the parties, and both go through a process of grieving the loss of the relationship and the future they once planned.

Relationships Scotland has recently launched a new service across Scotland to help parents to understand what they and their children are going through when they separate, and how to make splitting up less stressful. Parenting Apart, similar to the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) in England, provides helpful insights and an opportunity to share experiences. Parents learn about the impact of separation on children, what their children need to hear from them, and they gain an understanding of the other parent’s perspective. All of this helps them to communicate more effectively and negotiate with the other parent in a way that puts their children’s needs at the centre of their decision making.

Participants might go on to mediate, particularly to discuss parenting issues such as where their children are going to live and when they are going to spend time with each parent. They are likely still to agree their finance and property issues with the help of a solicitor, and they will be better equipped to do this calmly and effectively, and with the best interests of their children at the forefront. Parents who have participated in Parenting Apart are able to respond appropriately to the advice and guidance of their family lawyers and are able to make best use of this expertise in negotiating settlements.

Positive feedback

Parenting Apart was officially launched in August 2015. Since then, more than 150 parents have participated in these sessions, either in groups or on a one to one basis. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and inspiring. From a first analysis of evaluations, Relationships Scotland were delighted to establish that:

  • 96% of participants would recommend Parenting Apart to others, and
  • 86% think that what they found out will improve their family situation.

Parents taking part were 56% females and 41% males (3% did not indicate). Nearly half (47%) had been separated less than two years, and a surprising 18% had never lived together. Of the children represented by these parents, 72% were under the age of eight years; 12% were teenagers. These figures provide insight into the families that the new service is supporting.

The following quotes from parents sum up the benefits as they see them:

  • “The most helpful thing was hearing from the child’s point of view, to listen to what they want and not to assume what they want.”
  • “It’s been great to talk and discuss issues and get alternative views.”
  • “Parenting Apart is very useful and enabled me to look into the long term impact and how I can make this positive. It highlighted the importance of listening and communication with my son’s mum.”
  • “I found out a lot that I didn’t know about myself, my son and how to improve.”
  • “I would like to show my two children that their mum and dad can talk more about their future and not about each other’s selfish issues.”
  • “I will now try to keep calmer and not escalate situations with regards to child contact, to understand that things take time and think of the end result which is contact with my son.”

In addition, 45% of parents said they are less likely to seek a court order now, and 30% are more likely to agree a child maintenance arrangement. Relationships Scotland is confident that the sessions are making a real difference.

Progressive step

Family Law experts have welcomed the new service as an opportunity for Scotland to lead the way in co-parenting. Cath Karlin, partner and accredited specialist in family law at bto solicitors in Edinburgh praised the new service as a step in the right direction:

“We need to normalise the concept of co-parenting if we’re serious about making Scotland the best place in the world for children to grow up. Children of separated parents who don’t co-parent effectively are less likely to perform well at school and more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.

“Parenting Apart isn’t a nice-to-have service; it’s a logical step forward in making divorce and separation in Scotland more progressive.”

Parenting Apart sessions last about three hours and are delivered to small groups of mums and dads. Ex-partners participate in different sessions. They can also be accessed as one to one sessions in some parts of the country. They are available across Scotland and are currently free to join, thanks to a Strategic Funding Partnership Grant from the Scottish Government.

For more information go to www.parentingapart.org.uk, or contact Rosanne Cubitt, head of Professional Practice at Relationships Scotland (rosanne.cubitt@relationships-scotland.org.uk). Parents can find out about a Parenting Apart session near to where they live here: www.relationships-scotland.org.uk/find-a-local-service/family-mediation-services.

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