Child focus- working together for good parenting outcomes?

In Family Dispute Resolution you have the great advantage of hearing the stories from both parents, and the opportunity to work with these to avoid the parents becoming entrenched and positional. Child focus moves the discussion away from the position and needs of the individual parents, and on to the child. The questions change from what do you see as the best outcome for your child, to what does your child need and deserve?

Recently a young man (I shall call him Andrew) said to me-I want to have equal time with my son! I am his father, and I insist on my rights to be equally involved as a parent. He had not wanted the separation, and since then, he felt he had been cut out of his child’s life. He was adamant that it was not his fault that he had not been able to spend time with his son, and did not have a meaningful relationship. His son knew who he was and loved him, and all he needed to be a loving and caring father, was the opportunity to spend the time with his son that he was entitled to. From Andrew’s point of view this was reasonable and appropriate, and should happen as soon as possible.


Alison, the child’s mother, told me that Andrew had never been greatly involved with their child prior to separation, and had not spent any time with him without her being present since his birth. He had no skills to care for their child, and the child did not know him, and would not be comfortable or secure in his presence. She feared for the safety of the child in his father’s care, and thought that Andrew would very easily become frustrated and angry, and not respond appropriately to the child’s needs. She was adamant that she needed to act protectively, and limit and monitor Andrew’s time with the child. From her perspective, another reasonable and appropriate approach.

Both of these parents present coherent stories to support what they think would be the best outcome for their son. If hearing only one side of the story, it would be easy to recommend a direction that would put the parents in an adversarial position, set up against each other with totally inconsistent goals.

IMG_3479As lawyers and FDRPs a child focus approach is supported by the legislation and case law. The Family Law Act (“Act”) states that it is the child’s right to have the benefit of a meaningful relationship with both parents and other important people, and at the same time to be safe, comfortable and secure, protected from any harm. (s60B(1)) This is a clear object of the Act and is supported by guidelines including: the right of children to know and be cared for by both parents; to spend time and communicate on a regular basis with parents and those important to them; to have their parents share the duties and responsibilities of parenting; and for their parents to agree upon parenting arrangements. (s60B(2)).

As professionals working in this area we have a mandate to take a child focus approach to parenting disputes. For Andrew and Alison, I would like to explore with them: What does your child need for a good life? How can he be supported by both of you to develop a good relationship with his parents and others? How can he feel comfortable in moving from being with one of you to spending good quality time with the other? In 5 years, what would you like your child to look back and say about your parenting in this difficult time of your life? How can you work together to ensure that your child has the best of both worlds-the world with his father as well as the world with his mother?


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