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The impact of separation on children

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The breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship is usually a time of high stress and emotional turmoil. This is particularly so for children of the relationship as the separation can have lasting, if not permanent, consequences.

Separation inevitably involves a period of upheaval. For some children this period can last a relatively short period of time (the time it takes to move into a new home), but for others the period of instability lingers. Children who experience or are the subject of a protracted parental dispute are particularly vulnerable.

The laws that govern parenting disputes focus on putting in place arrangements that are in the children’s best interests. The Court process is set up to, where possible, protect children from the dispute and to minimise their involvement in the process. Generally, the only participation required of children who are the subject of family law proceedings is that they may be required to talk to a counsellor or psychologist, who is appointed to report back to the Court. Usually, this is a relatively painless exercise, however, the mere fact that their parents are in dispute and a Court is required to resolve that dispute can of itself be the source of anxiety for children.

There are many other options for resolving parental disputes rather than going to Court, including a range of alternative dispute resolution services available to separated parents. It is now a requirement under the Family Law Act for parents to make a genuine effort to resolve their disputes by family dispute resolution (mediation) before taking a parenting matter to Court.

In circumstances of high parental conflict, including family violence,resolving a dispute this way may not be possible. The children in those situations are often the most vulnerable and they can be at risk of exposure to continuing problems. In those cases early intervention can be critical.

For separated parents it is important to obtain advice from a family lawyer about the range of options available. Receiving that advice early may assist in minimising the children’s exposure to the conflict and assist by putting in place a set of arrangements that can give the children certainty and stability.

 Stuart Cameron

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