Research has been carried out by Cafcass on how children fare when their parents separate. It includes views from parents, children advocate groups, and various academics and practitioners. The result, called The Child Impact Assessment Framework, is a practical method to be in use in family courts by next May. It to assist the court when they are making decisions about who a child should live with and spend time with. The details available about it on the Cafcass website are likely to be interesting to any parents in a dispute about their children. The Cafcass website itself contains a lot of other useful information too if you are separating, and is well worth a look.
The big four issues examined are the effect on children of: domestic abuse; harmful conflict; child refusal or resistance to spending time with one parent; and harmful parenting e.g. substance misuse or mental health issues. It is a guide to help the court assessor answer the question ‘what is happening for this child?’ and to understand the child’s needs, wishes, and feelings. This is the basis of their influential recommendations.
The framework also looks at the contentious issue of ‘parental alienation’. This is a term sometimes used when a child has resistance or hostility towards a parent that is not justified, or is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. Justified rejection of a parent might occur if a child has been harmed by a parent, or is frightened of them due to domestic abuse, or other harmful parenting. The ideas around parental alienation are under a lot of debate generally and so reference to it in this project is welcome. It is important that this concept sheds light though, and is not used as a form of name-calling or even bullying.
Crucially, the report notes that resistance to contact might occur for benign reasons such as normal adolescent behaviour or a child exercising increased independence and wanting more freedom generally. Maybe your child does not want to be tied to either of you at the weekend. Separated parents can mistakenly blame each other, and this can be so easily stoked up by other areas of the split – for example conflict regarding how to share the finances, or even by well-meaning but overly partisan friends. Differences of opinion can become entrenched quickly, making it harder to reach reasonable agreements, especially if trust is in short supply.
If different views about parenting cannot be resolved and are causing problems in practical day to day arrangements, think about using mediation to communicate about the issues, unless one parent is abusive, or cannot discuss matters calmly or reasonably. Consider a brief legal consultation too, to ensure you are aware of the key things that will be in the mind of a court adviser who might be involved if disagreements cannot resolve. If differences do not have any practical impact, then you can agree to disagree: you don’t have to agree about every aspect of parenting just because you are separating.
If you have any questions about issues raised in this or other articles, all of which are on our website, www.hmbsolicitors.co.uk, please do email me on [email protected]
Divorce and children solicitor and mediator at Hopkin Murray Beskine
 Children and Family Court and Advisory and Support Service