With more than 1 in 3 children in Scotland living through their parents’ divorce or separation, readily accessible family support is more essential than ever. The impact of family breakdown is both a personal burden and a weight born by society as a whole. Divorcing and separating cost the public millions each year, and the price tag is higher in cases that proceed to litigation. Support for parents that makes court proceedings less likely reduces this cost, and makes splitting up less traumatic for those involved, including children.
Parenting Apart is a new free service that helps parents cope with problems after separation and learn strategies to support their children and themselves. The Scottish Government and Relationships Scotland are working together to provide Scottish families with the same opportunities as parents in England and Wales, available for all rather than linked to the legal system. The Separated Parents Information Programme has been mandated for families who go to court over contact or residence issues in England and Wales for several years. In Scotland, the equivalent, Parenting Apart, has been piloted in South Lanarkshire for the last six years. New funding from the Scottish Government has enabled this to be rolled out across Scotland. For the first time ever, parents can go along to Parenting Apart, for free, wherever they live, and whether they are in court or not.
Sessions offer an opportunity to find out what children need to make divorce and separation less stressful. Separation can be traumatic for the whole family and sometimes children get the worst of it. Many parents find that while legal and financial issues are key concerns, many of the problems they face and argue about are emotional, or about their children. Families face the task of moving forward without letting their children get caught in the crossfire.
Parents develop new skills and tactics to communicate more positively with their ex-partner and children. With this contact with Relationships Scotland, they are better able to access further support, such as counselling or mediation, as well as saving themselves money in the future.
Research consistently points to conflict and heated arguments as the main issue for children, rather than who they live with or how often they spend time with their non-resident parent. If parents can find a way to talk about what their children need, make arrangements and renegotiate plans in a calm and collaborative way their children will benefit. Studies show co-parenting groups improve communication, child behaviour and reduce the exposure of children to parental conflict. Parents are less likely to send messages through their children or ask children to take sides.
Parenting Apart offers support that might avoid a protracted and costly legal dispute which benefits the individual, as well as the government. The sessions also place the parents firmly in the driving seat when deciding the future of their family. A sheriff will typically spend less than 20 minutes on a case in court before making the decision they consider is best. Relationships Scotland’s view is that parents are the best people to make the decisions for their children – whether together or apart. The key is access to the right information and help in making difficult decisions.
• Rosanne Cubitt, Head of Professional Practice, Relationships Scotland