Summer is supposed to be the season when families get together, have fun and enjoy good weather.
Sadly, for children of divorced parents things can be rather more complicated. There's plenty of evidence that as mom and dad move on with separate lives, tensions come to the surface which can ruin more than just the holidays.
Analysis of the work done by my own firm, Pannone, has revealed that children's emotional welfare is put at risk because they are often used as pawns in parents' arguments about their new partners.
Having noticed an increase in disputes between parents in the run-up to this holiday season, we decided to examine whether it was something which was only occurring in 2011 or was representative of a pattern that could also be seen in previous years' caseloads.
We looked back over the last two years and discovered that as many as 75 per cent of parents who needed some legal help to resolve issues of residence or contact involving children get caught up in arguments about their former partner's new relationships.
It also seems that many of the most acute difficulties happen during school summer holidays. Although some involve very real issues, we estimated that 30 percent featured attempts to stop their former partners making a fresh start.
Furthermore, our findings echoed what family law colleagues at other firms across England and Wales were telling us informally.
Such situations are traumatic for all concerned but aren't necessarily borne out of malice. At the heart of many such cases are parents simply worried that their ex's new boyfriend or girlfriend will replace them in their affections.
My experience has taught me that almost no parent deliberately goes out to hurt their children but the issues involved are so emotive that they often don't think or behave in a rational manner. They believe that they're doing what's right even when, in actual fact, they're not.
Unfortunately, relationships such as those involving Bruce Willis and Demi Moore are rare. After their 13-year marriage ended in divorce in 2000, they have, according to numerous reports, continued to holiday together with their three daughters and their new partners came too.
In 2007, Willis was reported as telling interviewers that he found it easier to come to terms with both because he recognized the importance of his children and because of advice he received from another A-lister, Will Smith. "He said, 'Dude, you've got to do whatever it takes to get the kids and all the spouses or the girlfriend together. "You've got to show your kids it's okay.' It was like a light went on. Ding."
It is, of course, not only about how the parents cope with not being together but how the children react as well. Some find it terribly difficult to comprehend mom and dad having split up and there are infrequent circumstances in which courts might even ask a father or mother to put new relationships on hold in order to limit the potential upset for their children. I believe that the problem often lies more with the parents than the children involved. If they are guilty, it seems more that they're being over-sensitive than anything else.
There is no hard and fast rule as to when a new parent should be introduced to children. Each family unit has its own distinct dynamic, both before and after a divorce or separation.
In my view and that of my colleagues, the key is communication. Parents need to be able to discuss matters in a calm, clear and rational fashion, concentrating on putting a child's best interests first. Sometimes, people who are not immediately involved -- such as extended family, friends, trained mediators or family solicitors -- can provide some objective input and suggest ways to manage the situation.
It might not be easy for adults to always be 'grown-up' in emotionally testing circumstances but the benefits of helping their children become stable, well-adjusted adults in their own right surely outweigh short-term point-scoring.
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