Better protection for kids of separating parents

Better protection for kids of separating parents
Posed photo.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

With the welfare of children the "paramount consideration" of the courts, a new scheme aimed at better protecting those whose parents are divorcing will be introduced in the second half of the year.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon announced the Parenting Coordination programme yesterday to help ex-partners in their transition after divorce, thereby reducing conflict between them and their children.

While details of the scheme at the Family Justice Courts (FJC) are still being worked out, 24 lawyers have already been trained as "parenting coordinators", and will help in the pilot later this year. They will provide "practical help to resolve access (custody) issues in relation to the children", said CJ Menon.

"With high-conflict parenting situations, disagreements frequently arise over how access is to be carried out by the parent who does not have care and control of the child. This can give rise to a host of issues, including the location for access, the timing for handover of the children, or whether the child is allowed a play date on that parent's access day," he said.

"While these disagreements might appear to be trivial to the uninitiated, they can become a significant source of acrimony between divorced parents. And the children, who inevitably are caught in the middle, suffer developmental harm from the mental stress that this causes."

Speaking at the FJC Workplan 2016, CJ Menon said the Child Inclusive Dispute Resolution model, which was piloted last year, will now also be implemented for all suitable cases.

The extended pilot of the model saw 75 per cent of 20 families - 40 parents and 35 children - reach an agreement on all child-related issues. The model incorporates an interview with children to better understand their feelings and perspectives on their parents' disputes.

In his speech, CJ Menon noted research showing divorce as the cause of "a range of serious and enduring behavioural and emotional problems in children and adolescents". Statistics from the Youth Court bear this out: More than half of the youth offenders in 2013 and 2014 came from families in which parents were divorced or separated, or from reconstituted families.

"It is widely accepted that a child benefits from contact with both his parents and court orders seek to reinforce this approach," he said. "But research has shown that it is the quality of the relationship, not its frequency or quantity, that is significant in a child's post-separation adjustment and well-being. The point to be emphasised is that if parents engage in a continuous cycle of litigation, the conflict engendered by this will be detrimental to the child."

CJ Menon announced that maintenance record officers will also be appointed by the family courts. In cases where a respondent is unable to pay his maintenance obligations, these officers will investigate both parties' financial circumstances and submit the findings to the relevant judge. Should both parties refuse to co-operate, the officer can ask the court to force them to do so.

This article was first published on April 7, 2016.
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