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Our Director and family lawyer, Jacqueline Brown was on the Father's Day segment of 6PR. Listen to the playback on how to navigate around these special days when you share children and are separated.

3rd September 2020.

Transcript.

Chris Ilsley:

Here’s something to stop and think about for a moment. Firstly, you think that Fathers’ Day is for fathers, right? It’s almost a case of, “Yeah, Chris you’re stating the bleeding obvious”, but in fact, most children will tell you it is their special time with their dad.

So it’s probably a good idea to have a conversation about getting some tips, to ease tensions for separated couples who wants to do the best for the kids on Fathers’ Day. And this kind of stuff is not easy. It’s probably fair to say one of the first things you have to do is stay focused on the children and look, let’s face it for those of us who’ve got exes, yes, let’s be honest, we hate their guts, but the children don’t feel the same way.

Also need to communicate. You know, that line, what we have here is failure to communicate. If that happens, everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

And the other thing is that parents should make sure that everyone knows well in advance what arrangements are in place for children to see dad as well as the grandfathers. And often in separated families, grandparents are the ones who get really isolated.

The other thing, which is really a no brainer, but harder done than understood I suspect. And that is parents should avoid arguments and put aside any conversations that could lead in that direction. In fact, if anything beyond, “Hello, how are you?” “Very well, thank you”, and “Goodbye. Have a nice day.” If that’s all you can say with that fighting, then I’d argue that’s all you say.

And the other thing is don’t try and cram too much into one day or a few hours. Relax, give the children time to enjoy the time.

And also don’t expose children to any conflict. I know what you’re saying. You’re going “Yeah, yeah Chris”. Well actually having been there, done that. I do appreciate the next line that’s coming with this one easier said than done. It is indeed.

Jacqui Brown is a family lawyer at Lynn and Brown lawyers joins us on the program. Hello, Jacqui, thank you very much for your time too, by the way. Thank you.

As a lawyer, you must see this and I know that your profession often gets criticised for the role that it’s alleged to play in family law disputes. But I think to be honest, and to be perfectly pragmatic about the situation, lawyers usually get involved because the two people involved can’t sort out their issues or one person has an unfair advantage over the other, which means if they do amicably sort out their issues, as many people claim to have done when you dig down into it, you realise that one person has actually been taken to the cleaners, even if they don’t realise it. So at some point you have to have somebody who can sit back and say, look, this is the situation. This is how it needs to play out. And this is the only way that can produce a fair outcome. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that if you have a family law dispute, he walks out and he’s not happy. She walks out and she’s not happy. You’ve probably got it about right.

Jacqui Brown:

Absolutely. Chris. And that’s what I always say to people I see. I say to them, you’re never going to be happy with the agreement, but if you can live with it, then that means that it’s going to be okay.

Chris Ilsley:

I guess the whole property thing that sorts itself out fairly quickly, that’s done, it’s signed, it’s stamped. It’s a document that goes through the court and all of that then takes place. And you can walk away from that. The one thing I think people find really hard and I guess things like Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day really amplify that if you had kids together, that’s something that still keeps you connected, even though both of you will go off in different directions and no doubt form new relationships, you are still connected via the children. And that’s where it really gets difficult sometimes doesn’t it?

Jacqui Brown:

Yeah, that’s right, Chris. And you know, we can say these matters being litigated in the court for years and years, and that’s really not best for either of the parents involved, but definitely not best for the kids.

Chris Ilsley:

No, you certainly don’t want that. What sort of strong advice do you give people? And let’s just remind me, because it’s really hard also sometimes I think to forget the people like yourself are very much human. You also see and no doubt, feel the very human aspect of some of the issues that you have to deal with and you say okay, well in circumstances like this, and let’s just assume that the ex and I don’t get on that, what sort of advice do you dispense to people?

Jacqui Brown:

So Chris, my first bit of advice to almost everyone who comes to see me is if you can avoid court, you should. But when we’re talking about children, I think what we need to do as parents is think about what’s going to be the best thing for the kids first. And I know that’s not easy when you’ve got an ex that you, you know, really, as you said, just can’t stand, but what you know is going to be the best thing for the kids is just try and focus on them. And particularly on days like Fathers’ Day, where, you know, there can be a bit of tension leading up to it. If we’re trying to balance seeing grandparents and, and dad and you know sometimes step-dad as well, if that’s all happening, and there’s a bit of tension around that, that can make the day really a heightened conflict for the kids and, and unpleasant for everyone. So it’s really important to be thinking about them first and staying focused on them.

Chris Ilsley:

Is that once again, falling into the category of easier said than done?

Jacqui Brown:

Oh look,it absolutely is. But I think now there are some days that are really special days and Fathers’ Day is one of them for kids. You know, a lot of kids will have memories of what they did with their parents on Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day. So it is important just to try for at least, you know, those special days like Christmas and Easter and Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day to just try to make those ones, you know, as bearable as possible.

Chris Ilsley:

I’ve always thought that if you get this wrong, what’s going to happen is that it’s not going to affect you, and it’s not going to affect the ex. It’s going to affect both of you. Because the kids are not going to be happy with you and they’re going to get older. And one day when they’re older and adults are going to say, listen, why couldn’t you two clowns put aside your difference and just think about us for five minutes.

Jacqui Brown:

Absolutely. I’ve seen that so many times. It’s amazing.

Chris Ilsley:

Probably not as amazing as you think, because in many respects you’d argue it’s just obvious, wouldn’t you?

Jacqui Brown:

Yeah, well look, you know, but I guess the people who are going through it at the time, it’s not that obvious to them that that’s what needs to be done unfortunately.

Chris Ilsley:

Do you think we’re getting better at this? Do you think as time goes by, we accept that a given number of relationships are not going to survive, that there are going to be children who are going to be separated from one parent or the other simply by the nature of a marriage breakdown. Are we getting better at managing children’s issues that we acknowledge that children have two parents that the best outcome is that they have a good relationship with two parents. Now, I’m putting aside for a moment, the fact that sometimes there are some people who should never have been parents and the kids are better off as far away from them as possible. I’m not denying that, that isn’t a reality as well, but in the main kids have two parents, they love me equally, and so if you and the ex don’t like each other, that is not how the kids feel about you. And that I think sometimes can be really hard for people, but have we got better at accepting that we really do need to eat a bit of crow and except that we have to do something towards facilitating a good relationship between our children and our ex spouses, regardless of how we personally feel.

Jacqui Brown:

Yeah look, I think there’s a really good point that you raised Chris. And I do think that we are getting better at it. And as much as it might not seem that way if you’ve down at ithe family court at times, I think that there’s a lot more education for parents around, you know, the importance of having each of the parents in a child’s life and the importance of each of the parents respecting each other, especially in front of the kids so that the kids are able to express themselves about their relationships with their parents and able to enjoy their parents as they should.

Chris Ilsley:

When you think of all the different people you’ve seen over the years, and you think of a day like Fathers’ Day, you realise what it means, you also realise that there are some clients that we’d never mentioned, but you’d certainly be aware this is going to be a difficult day, what would be the best advice you would dispense?

Jacqui Brown:

Again, Chris, it’s hard because probably for everyone, there’s probably a few little gems that would be really good. But, but I think a lot of those points that you mentioned before are really important, but I think just staying focused on the kids is really the key to everything, but having things ready in advance, communicating openly with each other, all of those things are really important. But yeah, just remember how the kids are going to feel about it. And remember that the kids are going to remember this going forward.

Chris Ilsley:

When we talk about Fathers’ Day, what sort of role did grandfathers play? Because often a marital split also reduces the amount of time that grandparents can spend with the kids or certainly some grandparents can spend.

Jacqui Brown:

It certainly does. And often it will increase the amount of time other grandparents will spend with the kids, because parents then become more reliant on their parents to help them if I don’t have two parents in the home. So it can be really important for kids to have those relationships with grandparents, but even when they’re not seeing the grandparents all that often, it really is important for them. And there’s a lot of research that shows that it can be very significant for kids if they miss out on those sort of broader relationships in the family. So it really is important for both parents to try to help maintain those relationships.

Chris Ilsley:

It’s probably also character building for adults, be they parents or grandparents when you realise that what you need to do is just spend five minutes at the eat crowd cafe and you keep all your garbage away from the kids. Learning to do that. And if you can learn to do it for special times, arguably you can learn to do it for other times. Because I always believe regardless of how you feel I accept that people are going to be in the position where they can’t stand an ex, but I do believe that has to be taken away from the kids. And also, regardless of how you feel about your ex, I still believe that you have to say positive things to the kids about them. You have to do your best to foster a positive relationship.

Now, in some cases that doesn’t happen because the other party really isn’t interested in maintaining a proper relationship with the kids. Well, ultimately I would argue that will be an issue between them and the kids, but in the meantime, while the kids are young and dependent, in other words, non-adults, it probably is good to encourage a sound relationship.

Jacqui Brown:

Yes, definitely. You know, in 99% of instances, that’s really what should be happening. You know, it’s been done a lot better than it used to be. And even the courts are recognising it a lot more now with, you know, we used to have this arrangement where dads often would only get to see the kids every second weekend, but now the courts are saying, no, that’s just not nearly enough to keep a good balanced relationship, even if dad’s not going to be the primary care, which more and more dads are nowadays, then, you know, at least they shouldn’t be time during the week that dad should have some involvement with the schools that dad should have some involvement in afterschool activities or sporting activities. And dads are getting a much fairer run in the family court with those sorts of decisions being made for them as well.

Chris Ilsley:

Do you think the court’s also more amenable to the role that fathers played? Because I know for a long time, many people, especially men harboured the belief that the family court was intrinsically anti-them and it was always inevitably going to side with a mother. Would you argue that, that if you accept about trend was real, that it is now reversing?

Jacqui Brown:

Absolutely. I mean, I think there was definitely, a trend where early, judgments in the court were very focused on the child retaining a relationship with mum, but nowadays the court, you know, will bend over backwards to make sure that dad is spending sufficient time with them as well. And I think that there’s a lot of social science research that shows how important a kids’ relationship with their dad is and what the negative outcomes for the whole of society can be if they don’t maintain those relationships. And the courts are very cognisant of that. And it’s really good to see that, you know, they are, exercising that in their judgments a lot more freely

Chris Ilsley:

We’re out of time. Now, Jacqui, thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat to us. Really appreciate it.

Jacqui Brown:

Thank you, Chris. And good night to all of your listeners.

Chris Ilsley:

Jacqueline Brown is a family lawyer at Lynn and Brown Lawyers.

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