Every year in the UK, around 280,000 children see their parents separate. How those separations happen will affect the rest of those children’s lives. The negative effects of poorly handled divorce and separation on children are extensively documented.
The Children Act of 1989 sets out a vision that promotes parental responsibility, with child welfare at the heart of decision-making. We are still some way off from achieving that vision, with many separated parents lacking the tools to manage their strong emotions and prioritise the welfare of their children. Too many parents still rely on the family courts to resolve problems created by their inability to communicate effectively together whilst under stress.
The court system is overloaded not only with new cases, but also with parents frequently returning to court to argue over decisions about their children. The conflict, the disputes, and the emotional strain are not only felt by the parents, but also by their children.
I am a co-parent coach and founder of The Co-Parent Way, a coaching practice that works with separated parents who want to find a better way to prioritise the welfare of their children. I’m a co-parent myself, and every year I see hundreds of separated parents, who are either referred by family lawyers, or who seek us out at the end of their tethers, often disheartened and feeling that there is no way out of their current conflict with their ex-partners. We are different from divorce coaches. We focus solely on getting parents to a place where they can parent together effectively, whatever they feel about each other.
We start from the perspective that, given the right tools, co-parents can usually find a way to parent their children together, and that is – more often than not – proven correct. We also believe that, where it’s safe and healthy to do so, children need to have parents who can be there fully for them, despite their separation.
We’ve found that the key skills that help parents most are communication skills – how they speak and listen to each other. Working on these skills allows separated parents to create a functional co-parent relationship that allows conversations about their children to happen.
Over the years of working with separated parents, we’ve also found that when a parent feels secure they can be a stable platform for their child. So underpinning the work we do is the basis that we need make separated parents feel more secure and confident in their own abilities to co-parent effectively and flexibly. In turn, this enables them to give their children stability and security.
It’s not easy to do this but it’s important. Because when parents have practical tools that they can use to self-manage their emotions and stabilise their reactions, they are much more likely to de-escalate conflict thus keeping the safe space needed for a child to grow up in.
If co-parents can build a parenting bubble around their children even though they are no longer in a relationship together (called a parental loop), then conflict is managed, kids learn how to form healthy relationships and there is a much-reduced inappropriate reaction rate from children. Parents achieve this loop through good communication and decision-making and through demonstrating to their children that they still have two parents who wish to parent them together. When children have a safe parental loop, they feel safe and resilient and are able to be children. A strong parental loop allows children to grow up and become emotionally healthy adults who can form strong and successful relationships.
Family lawyers and others working in the family law space routinely tell me that dealing with high conflict parents is one of the most dispiriting and energy-sapping parts of their daily work. Family lawyers regularly say to me about parents in high conflict, ‘I wish they’d think about what they’re doing to their kids’. Difficult and messy emotions, particularly around how to co-parent, make it harder to move clients forward to take the legal decisions they need to take. The longer and more hostile the separation process, the more bitter the arguments about what happens to the kids, the larger will be the impact on those children.
Encouraging your clients to work together and use resources that are out there will help reduce the emotion and stress they bring to the table about their children. It will help them to find a way to co-parent better together, and it will hugely benefit the children themselves.
The Co-Parent Way: Essentials Course is available now for £249 per parent. It’s the world’s first on demand co-parent coaching course. It has recently won the Innovation in family law award presented by Resolution.
Marcie Shaoul is founder and Director of The Co-Parent Way, the UK’s first dedicated co-parent coaching practice. She is a former international civil servant, who led Communications and Stakeholder teams around the world for many years. She has trained governments and civil society to communicate more effectively together to bring about change. She is a fully trained, certified, and accredited coach and sits on Resolution’s Parenting after Parting Committee. She has worked as a co-parent coach in the family law space since 2017.