I can help you bypass the truly awful adversarial process of the courts at the time of the breakup...

Jo O'sullivan

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No, Joe, Going to Court is the Worst Money You Will Ever Spend

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No, Joe, Going to Court is The Worst Money You Will Ever Spend

There has been wide media coverage of Joe Swash’s court battle.  He said, ‘going to court for son Harry was "best money he ever spent” and "I wouldn't want to spend my money on anything else."

Undoubtedly, any money spent in pursuit of spending time with one’s child feels worth it.

But I’d say it’s the worst money he ever spent.  There are some tell-tale moments when things might have been different.

The relationship (between him and the mother of his child) ended just one year after his son, Harry, was born.  This sounds like a fragile and vulnerable time for all the family. I don’t know the ins an outs but it seems to me the couple would have benefited from spending time in therapeutic counselling.  Not to bring about reconciliation but to help with the separation.  It would have sorted out all the hurt, anger and grief people often feel at the end of a relationship. 

Money and time spent on this would have paid dividends for their ongoing relationship.

Remember, these parents have to parent this child for another 17 (and more) years. Isn’t it worth spending time on this all-important ongoing parenting relationship?

Given Harry’s young age, at the time of separation, we have to remember that a baby’s development is crucial.  It’s often thought that babies don’t know what’s going on but the truth is that they are like sponges, any acrimony and upset change the very nature of their brains.

‘What babies need when Mum and Dad separate

…..Babies need more help to manage their feelings.

They need predictability, and a lot of time with parents who nurture them. They need parents who play with them, listen carefully to their efforts to communicate, and who keep their world small and safe.

If they've had a safe and nurturing relationship with both parents, they need to continue to have that. They need visiting schedules that don't overwhelm them with too much change, or with conflict between their parents. Babies need parents who are tuned into their needs, rather than having to be tuned in to Mum's or Dad's feelings.’

(Because it's for the Kids - Building a secure parenting base after separation, Jennifer McIntosh, Ph.D).

Money spent at this early stage would have saved many thousands of pounds and all the stress of going to court.

Joe goes on to say, "It's just one of those things, his mum and I weren't agreeing on certain things and we had to go to court.

"We had to do it that way. And that's what court's there for, to sort things out. And it [did] exactly that. It's changed our lives."

Court is absolutely the last resort.  This couple might also have tried to go to mediation, where the mediator will often with therapists, and arrangements could have been agreed. Maybe even trying out arrangements to see what suited Harry (and them) best. Some things work and some things don’t. Also, they might have learned how to communicate with each other. Eventually, these arrangements could have been converted into a court order by consent (on a paper application) – with absolutely no one going to court at all.  But it should be remembered that arrangements for children must necessarily change over time. What they need and want changes. The parents own lives change too, maybe with new jobs or new living arrangements.

I notice that changes happened for Joe.  He became Stepfather to 2 boys and has had another baby boy, Rex.  Here is another opportunity for Harry’s parents to have discussed (with their counsellor or mediator) how they might deal with this.  Joe says he thought that Harry was jealous and this is very common for children in blended families and entirely normal.  No matter how much time Harry spent with his dad it would still feel like it wasn’t enough and be upsetting to him.  But prior planning by Harry’s parents could have helped.  They might have discussed how to let him know what was going on; maybe made arrangements for him to spend special alone time with Joe and generally have an open channel of communication between them which would have helped Harry make this transition. 

I am not critising Joe, he was doing his level best in difficult circumstances.  But parents out there can learn from Joe’s experience. Get help with the separated relationship early on to start the process of sorting things out. I’m not saying it’s easy but I am saying it’s crucial.

If things really can’t get sorted out then Court is the very last option. The family court was a mess before Covid with long waiting times, multiple hearings and often different Judges dealing with a case. Post Covid, the family court really is a disaster. 

I can tell you for a fact that court forces parents to take a polar position, to criticise the other parent and just be generally negative.  I can also tell you that court is one of the worst experiences that parents (and their children) go through.  Whilst going through a court case the parents are trying to parent whilst going through such a traumatic experience.

If parents really need someone else to make a decision for child arrangements, then maybe try Child Arbitration instead.  The Arbitrator makes an ‘award’ which is legally binding. This is quicker and very likely cheaper than court. http://ifla.org.uk/ 

So, it feels to me as though all money spent in court (or in Arbitration) is too much money and all too late. 

Try really hard to consider things from your child’s point of view, and go from there.

Kids hate it when their parents go to court. They get really upset when their parents can’t get on. Their parents are the people they most love in the world.  All they want is to be a kid with two loving parents watching out for them.  Court does not create that nurturing environment.  Using gentler processes like counselling and mediation do. With time and patience everything will be sorted out.