The time allocated to each one can seem to one or other like a prize to be awarded to the most meritorious parent. Each parent’s relatives, cheering from the side-lines, will eagerly watch for each victory which gives a few hours more per fortnight, or a couple of extra days in the summer holidays. It’s more than just unfortunate when a contact dispute descends to that sort of scenario. Very few people would advise their best friends to behave in that manner but when these best friends find themselves in the middle of a contact dispute, the best advice which they would give others can seem very difficult to take.
Scots Law in relation to these cases is simple to state but sometimes difficult to implement. The court’s paramount criterion is the best interests of the child and although there is other guidance in the statute (The Children (Scotland) Act 1995) that guidance is always subject to that criterion.
These disputes can be made less painful for all concerned – especially for the child – if people keep in mind:
- Look at the long term best interests of the child. Don’t try to withhold the child from the other parent in order to punish a perceived slight to you or your family. Things said in the heat of the moment can have negative effects far beyond their true worth if they are allowed to fester.
- Remember that the two parents will be the common grandparents of the child’s own children. If there’s a running battle now then these future relationships which can be so nourishing for children into the longer term may be spoiled.
- Don’t hide behind your lawyer. Sooner or later the lawyers on each side will pack their briefcases and go home, leaving you and your ex as the people primarily concerned with the child’s welfare and so therefore you will have to have a communicating relationship for years to come. The failure of the other party to be reasonable is not a reason (nor an excuse) for you to compete in unreasonableness.
- Don't over-interpret things which your children say about their preferences. Children know what sells, and if they get a positive reaction from you when they say they don't like the other parent then that is what they will repeat -- to you. Don't forget that the same principle will work when the children are in the other household. That is not to say that you should not listen to what a child says. You should of course listen very carefully. But don't over-interpret it.
- Never ever bad-mouth the other parent or his or her family, even when the other side is bad-mouthing you. Children will usually see through that sort of thing and make up their mind which parent is being fair or unfair. A lot of long-term own-goals are scored by parents and their families who forget this.
There are difficulties and frustrations which arise in running any contact relationship, even if the parents do behave reasonably to eachother. You can't expect it to be otherwise. After all, couples who stay happily together have …. issues. Even the happiest marriage tends to resemble Wellwood rather than Hollywood. You can't expect that after separation everything will go like clockwork but, nevertheless, there are things you can do which will tend to avoid making matters worse.
No two cases are the same so these general remarks should not be taken as if they were specific advice. They don't amount to a silver bullet but ignoring them may be risky.