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Putting the kids first

Putting the kids first

Separated parents who took part in a new Families Commission research project advise putting the kids needs’ first when sorting out arrangements for care post-separation.

The Commission has released its study Putting the Kids First – caring for children after separation just prior to Families Day (15 May). The study looked at how 39 separated parents successfully decided issues such as where their children would live and what type of contact they would continue to have with each parent. The Commission also has a much larger study underway looking at the arrangements made by 1600 separated parents. Results of this study are due out early next year.

“Sadly, many New Zealand families experience a breakdown in the relationship between parents, with around 4,500 divorces each year involving around 8,000 children. However, not a lot is known about how separating parents go about making decisions affecting their children,” said Chief Commissioner Rajen Prasad.

The research to find out more was carried out by Jeremy Robertson and Jan Pryor of the Victoria University Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families, and Janine Moss of the Families Commission.

“In this study we found that the parents first tended to agree on their principles about contact – generally that the children should be in regular contact with both parents. Then they worked out arrangements that suited their particular circumstances – and this sometimes involved a bit of experimentation,” said Jan Pryor.

“Their basic advice to other separating parents was to put personal issues aside and focus on the needs of the children. Not always something they found easy to do, however it seemed to work best when people started a fresh, almost businesslike relationship with their former partner to help them deal with the needs of their children.”

Most parents who separate make their own joint decisions about their children, without litigation or court orders. Because of this, little is known about how they go about making those decisions.

Researcher Jan Pryor said although this was only a small sample of separated couples, their accounts indicate that it is important parents are supported and encouraged to put their children first and develop a constructive working relationship with their former partner.

“The most common source of information for these parents was the counsellors they accessed through the Family Court. This suggests that this service should be widely promoted,” she said.

Another implication is that no one arrangement works for all families. The most desirable style of separated parenting includes overnight stays with each parent and the parents in this study achieved this over time, despite geographical and financial challenges.

The researchers and the Commission hope that the voices of the parents who participated in this study will empower other couples who are separating to understand and explore the many options and possibilities for care for their children.

The Commission is sending the report to the Ministry of Justice, the Family Law Section of the Law Society as well as other organisations with a relevant policy or programme role to consider the implications of the findings.


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