Comment: In times of change it’s still good to talk

Ensuring children have a structured means of contact when their parents are estranged helps immmensely. Picture: TSPL
Ensuring children have a structured means of contact when their parents are estranged helps immmensely. Picture: TSPL
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WHILE families may inevitably experience divorce, maintaining communication is a must, writes Gareth Masson

When the former Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington announced her separation from her husband, Harry Needs, at the beginning of last month, she claimed they were “still the best of friends”.

Days later, however, according to various reports, it transpired that Ms Adlington had left her infant daughter in her ex-husband’s care, whilst she jetted off to Barbados. The husband is reported to have expressed some surprise at her decision to go on holiday without their daughter, suggesting he was in the dark about her travel plans.

Communication is so important in many aspects of life, but when it comes to divorced or separated couples with children, effective and constructive communication is a must.

This takes on a new dimension at this time of year because many divorced or separated parents will be making plans to take their children out of the home environment and on a summer holiday, either on their own or with a new spouse and partner.

This often raises disagreements with the parent to be left at home – and who holds custody of the children – as he or she may be wary about the detail of the holiday arrangements. This may involve concerns about modes of travel, holiday destination (is the country safe?), the standard of accommodation, what activities the children will be taking part in and, depending on age, if they will be allowed out in the evening unaccompanied. Consequently, it is essential that the parent left at home is fully informed about the location and duration of the holiday, and – in particular - how easy it will be to be able to make contact, particularly if something important crops up. Both parties should try to agree a structured form of contact in which the children communicate regularly with mum or dad at home – with mobile phones, Skype and other digital means of communication, the opportunities have never been greater. Yes the kids may have such a great time while away that they will genuinely forget to regularly call a parent back home; nevertheless it is essential the parent taking them on holiday ensures they do.

As for taking along a new spouse or partner, especially for the first time, it would be unwise to expect the holiday to be plain sailing. In fact introducing children to new partners should only really take place if it is clear that the relationship is likely to last.

That means giving the relationship some time until you and the new partner are sure you want to be part of each other’s lives. Going on holiday together may not be appropriate if the relationship is still in its infancy.

In a converse situation such as the one involving Rebecca Adlington, the parent left literally holding the baby will also want to be given reasonable notice of travel plans and be provided with full contact information. However, it is also wise for the person on holiday to be sensitive to the feelings of someone caring for the children back home.

Posting regular updates by mobile phone showing oneself tanned and sipping cocktails beside a sun-drenched swimming pool is likely to generate resentment in the mind of the “ex” stuck at home carrying out mundane parenting jobs, particularly involving babies or toddlers.

Should the arrangement turn out to be a ‘success’ (if that is the right word for a situation involving estranged couples) the person who has enjoyed a holiday should agree to reciprocate. Both parties should then attempt to set up a regular, civilised pattern of give and take which would apply to future holidays and other special occasions like Christmas, Easter and birthdays. Although this article has attempted to send out a positive message I should, perhaps, conclude with a warning. It is not unheard of, especially in cases where child custodial and access issues have been particularly fraught, for a parent to try to secure a legal advantage while his or her “ex” is on holiday in a foreign country.

Where appropriate, would-be holidaymakers may wish to assess the risk of that happening to them and take legal advice of their own.

• Gareth Masson is a family law partner with Blackadders