Are your children travelling abroad with your ex?

Are your children travelling abroad with your ex?

It can often take a lot of trust and courage to come to terms with the children’s first trip abroad. You may have fears that your ex has not cared for them for that length of time before, that they may not return from the trip, or that your child is too young to travel without you. These are common concerns.

Here are some tips from Relate about how to manage the emotions surrounding travel, as well as the practical side of proceedings.

Source: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-separation-and-divorce/living-arrangements/taking-children-abroad

 

Managing difficult feelings

  1. Try to remember how you managed difficult feelings when you first separated and draw on the same strengths.
  2. List your concerns – both practical and emotional ones. Sort out what feels most important to think about or act upon first.
  3. Without involving your child in discussions, try thinking about the trip from your child’s point of view. How might they feel if they miss out on an opportunity?
  4. Ask your ex to share any plans they have for the trip abroad, explaining that doing so will reassure you.
  5. Talk through how you feel about the trip with a friend or family member.

 

Practical Considerations

If you give permission it is very important to do the following:

  1. Ask for contact details for example, telephone number and address abroad and details of who else is joining them on holiday.
  2. Make sure your ex has contact details for the children’s doctor in the case of a medical emergency.
  3. Check your ex has travel and medical insurance that covers your child.
  4. Allow your child to e-mail/text/telephone you if they would like to.

Fiona also advises her clients going on holiday with their children to send a text to the other party to let them know of the children’s safe arrival once they’ve reached their destination. It takes little time and can be of significant goodwill and reassurance to the parent left back home alone.

 

Taking the kids abroad: Part 1

Taking the kids abroad: Part 1

Travelling overseas with your kids is logistically challenging – and more than a little exhausting – at the best of times. At the worst of times, the administrative burden can result in a check in-desk disaster and a cancelled trip. If you’re part of a blended family, in which one or both parents have different surnames to their children, this can only add to what is already a particularly stressful time.

Here are our top tips to sail through passport control this Easter…

1. Check the Expiry Dates!

Ensure your kids’ passports have at least 6 months left until expiry. Some destinations allow travel with less than 6 months, but many don’t. On a trip of a lifetime to Kenya, one family was turned around at Gatwick. After a couple of days their passports were renewed, but the knock-on expenses as well as stress levels were extremely high!

2. Separated or travelling solo? You need parental permission.

Most parents don’t know it’s a criminal offence to take your child abroad without the consent of anyone who also has parental responsibility (PR) for the child. Not all parents have PR but most probably do. If you are divorced, separated or just travelling without your spouse, even going to Edinburgh would be classified as an offence without the consent of the other parent. You’ll need to take a signed letter of consent from the child’s other parent in order to travel, as well as…

3. Birth Certificates!

Yes we know that carrying these around can be a real pain, particularly for parents with blended families. However the Home Office recommends you carry a child’s birth certificate so that you can prove you are the parent.  In fact, South Africa has made child birth certificates a mandatory document for entry. In recent years UK Passport Control have become increasingly vigilant about checking parental authenticity to prevent child trafficking. This is little comfort to one respondent to our travel poll:

‘This happened to me. It was not helped by the children’s’ blank faces when asked what relationship they were to me! I made sure I flew with a letter from their father after that.’

– Fiona H.

Of course these days it is entirely usual for parents not to share a name with their spouse partner or their children. It may be the 21stcentury, but after a long flight these interactions are still commonplace:

‘I was quizzed coming back into Heathrow after an 11 hour flight with three kids. Passport Control asked me to quickly rattle off the dates of birth of all my kids, then gave me a stern talking to about travelling with a different name to my children’

– Lisa D.

We can all be forgiven for muddling up dates and mislaying paperwork after a long haul flight with the kids. That’s why Fiona McLeman suggests:

4. Screenshot Documents on your Phone

A handy shortcut for breezing through passport control. The official advice is to carry the originals or certified copies, however if all your other documentation is in order, a birth certificate photo may well suffice.

5. Get multiple copies certified

Instead of carrying the precious originals, you can ask a solicitor to arrange certified copies for you at a minimal charge. Everyone with PR should have certified copies for each child, and then the originals can be safely stored away at home.

Coming next: Are your kids travelling abroad with your ex? How to manage difficult feelings, and practical considerations. 

Self Care – The Oxygen Mask Approach

Self Care – The Oxygen Mask Approach

‘Put on your own mask first, BEFORE you help others’

Facing your first Christmas and New Year after separation can be a challenging time. In December we shared information about some local outdoor spaces – places to take long, reflective, healing walks with family and friends over the holiday period. But now that the holidays are at an end, it’s a difficult time with many of us re-entering the workplace and adjusting to the start of the kids’ school term.

Many of us have news we aren’t quite ready to share, or feelings that we that we want to keep hidden. Time for you is key and at this busy time, at the start of a new year, we want to remind you to make time for you. Scheduling time to look after yourself, to pursue your own interests and to care for your own health is not selfish. Those who depend on you will experience the benefits too. So with that in mind, here are some Self Care recommendations.

 

Retreat

Imagine a ‘breathing / bathing space’ with wooden hot tubs, a hilltop sauna and a terrace café close to the city yet out in the countryside. It’s a dream right? Wrong. PAUS Cambridge is our new ‘go to’ retreat. It’s open on weekends throughout the year.

It might be a bleak midwinter but Czech owner Alexandra recommends the winter months as the best time to maximize the restorative effects of the 40degree water. Book in with a group of friends for an afternoon, or take a look at their workshops and retreats. From ‘Coffee and Canvas’ painting classes to Santosha Yoga, the events are great opportunities to socialise and to try something different.

 

Yoga

Satyam Yoga offer beginner and restorative yoga classes, as well as ‘women’s circles’ – a group experience with the opportunity to ’step out of your busy life for an evening of gentle reconnection’. Their website even explains,

‘Don’t feel you have to bring your best self or stay away because you are not feeling great. You are most welcome to bring your authentic self, just as you are right now in your own particular cycle of ups and downs’

 

Exercise

Hitting the gym is a New Year’s cliché, but we all know that breaking a sweat is a fantastic way to offload negative feelings, and feel better about yourself. Try losing yourself for a moment in an intensive activity, like Puregym’s ‘Sweat 30’ or ‘Burn It’ classes. Their new Grafton Centre branch has opened a stone’s throw from FM Family Law’s offices and we recommend their affordable no-obligation monthly memberships (£12.99), multitude of classes and spacious layout. If you have a hectic lifestyle and find it hard to schedule gym trips into your commuting or childcare schedule, the Leisure Park PureGym is open 24 hours. It has a handy app to check out busy times and quiet times and to keep tab on your attendance. The app allows you to prebook into classes to incentivize you to go. Just ask Fiona!

David Lloyd Gym is another excellent choice, especially if you have children. It has a  crèche available for children from 3 months old, kids play area and an afternoon kids club. These options give single or working parents the flexibility to visit the gym, to have a swim and sauna, or just a quiet coffee break. Their new Blaze classes create the ultimate immersive environment in a specially built studio. It is suitable for fitness beginners and the people (instructors and participants) are particularly friendly and encouraging.

 

Family Walks

Taking walks with family and friends can be a great healer. In the winter months, when we wake before sunrise and don’t feel the sun on our skin, our mood can become suppressed and the emotional toll of relationship breakdown can be confounded. We recommend the National Trust properties surrounding Cambridge – suitable for young and old – such as Anglesey Abbey. If the kids are distracted and happy, we all feel calmer: They have children’s maps with wildlife searching tasks, binoculars & magnifying glasses, an adventure playground and a cozy café.

Also try Ickworth House and Hotel, equi-distant between our Cambridge and Norwich offices. The grounds and gardens are wonderful for a visit, but if you’re in need of some R&R, the hotel has a spa, pool and kids facilities: a fully staffed crèche, kids high tea and baby monitors so you can eat dinner after bedtime.

Beauty & Alternative Therapies

We’re not talking about a ‘new you.’ But beauty treatments can give you the self-esteem boost you might need in challenging times, as well as the chance to really ‘do nothing’ for a change. For hair we like Bamboo on Mill Road, and Ella Cain’s-Sola at Maluku hairdressing – both with great conversation and excellent coffee, too. Lucy, originally from Glassworks, does Christina’s beauty treatments at her home salon, called Lucy’s Beauty. 

For massages and facials we recommend Jennie Hart Aromatherapy for her holistic approach to wellbeing. ‘Imagine that your only job for an hour is to listen to your heart (rather than your busy mind)’ she writes, ‘chances are that feeling more connected to your body, feeling cared for, and taking even an hour to yourself would do you the world of good.’ We hear you, Jenny.

Rosalind Bubb is an EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapist) and TAT (Tapas Acupressure Technique) practitioner. Personally recommended by Christina, she uses energy meridian therapies, as well as acupressure and modern psychology to help people feel happy, calm and well. Rosalind is a skilful and caring therapist, who will quickly put you at your ease. She is easy to talk to and has a light touch. There is often some laughter when you work with her – even when the topic is serious.

Seek Professional Help

Finally, it’s important to emphasise that self-care can take many forms. If you’re feeling low, isolated, or very stressed, seek help from a qualified counsellor or health professional.  Fiona is a trustee of Relate Cambridge, an organization with over 30 counsellors who have experience with individuals, couples, young people and families.

We also recommend Jane McCann of McCann Consultancy. She’s a counsellor and mediator on Burleigh St near our offices, and extremely well regarded in our community. What’s more, she’s a lovely lady and a good sport, too. Marie Edgar offers counselling and psychotherapy, with experience in addiction therapy. Her calm Scottish tones are very reassuring! Meeting good, kind people on this journey – sharing your story with them and asking for their support – is the type of self-care that will get you through the darker days.

Finally, if you need assistance in legal advice or mediation, FM Family Law can help. Getting information about your rights is empowering and liberating. We are experts with decades of experience in family law and we can help you help yourself. Our mediation process enables you to discuss all issues arising from your separation, but away from court and lawyers www.fmfamilylaw.co.uk/what-we-do/mediation/

Obstacles to Moving on

Obstacles to Moving on

You’re in an unhappy place and you don’t know what to do. The relationship isn’t working. You’ve grown apart and you want different things. You’ve tried counselling. You’ve tried talking. You’ve argued a lot. You know you don’t feel the same way towards him/ her like you used to, yet you still don’t know if it’s the right thing to make the break. You’re at a cross roads, (in some cases a spaghetti junction). Your mind is a scramble and nothing seems right.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

It’s not unusual to find yourself facing obstacles to ‘moving on’. We, us humans, are complex creatures. Our psychological make up is defined by our experiences as children, which inform, influence, and shape and underpin our behaviours as adults. We live and learn (most of the time) from our observations, our experiences, and our mistakes. We manage constant decisions of an everyday nature and as we navigate through challenges in our work, family life, and our friendships. None of us are the same. We have unique DNA. Yet, it’s right to say that we all face similar emotions when faced with similar lifetime challenges and crises.

This article is about distilling the challenges to separation to help you understand where you are in your journey and help pave a clearer pathway for you.

Obstacle 1 ‘For the sake of the kids’

The kids are the most important thing to you. You don’t want to let them down. You think it might be better for them if you put your needs to one side, and wait until they are older before making the break.

Every family is different. Waiting might be the right thing to do. It’s also not unusual to find that many kids can welcome – indeed cope well with- a separation. Kids are like sponges, they watch adults’ behaviours and mimic them. They might feel sad at their parents separating but generally they find that they can be happy, in two homes filled with love than one home filled with tension. Children can take responsibility for their parents’ unhappiness, and might try to blame themselves. If the separation is handled mindfully and sensitively, your kids are likely to come out of it all a whole lot happier than if you stay together in a toxic and unhealthy dynamic. And, let’s not beat about the bush, kids might also welcome the benefits – another home, a double sets of presents, holidays, etc.

Obstacle 2 ‘Oh but the guilt’

You’re the one who had/ is having an affair. You know the marriage was broken before you met someone else, but he / she doesn’t see it like that. They thought everything was ‘fine’.  But it wasn’t ‘fine’, how can they say it was ‘fine’? It was miserable, loveless, sexless, without affection and you know you couldn’t go on any more like that. Yet…. you still feel to blame. You feel bad for the hurt you caused. You want to make it better. You know you probably can’t plaster this over. The wound is deep. But you will try.

This obstacle can manifest in how you deal with the divorce. In some cases the ‘wrong doer’ is burdened with a sense of guilt and wants to ‘do right’. This might mean you want to be more generous in the financial settlement. It’s understandable. You are human, after all. However the divorce court does not penalise the ‘one who had the affair’. The court separates the finances from the reasons for the divorce. It is only in exceptionally rare cases that behaviour in a marriage will affect the financial outcome.

Obstacle 3 – The fear

Ugh, the fear of the unknown. Very few people relish uncertainty.  You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know where you will live, how often you will see the kids, whether you can afford ‘all this’. You might think that doing nothing and living with what you’ve got is better than taking the big step into the unknown. But you also know you can’t carry on as you are.

You’re afraid of letting people down. Your parents are in strong lifelong committed relationship and how can you possibly tell them you are separating from your partner. You’re probably terrified. You might feel ashamed.

You are not alone. These feelings are entirely normal. Uncertainty can be managed by getting legal advice to know what your rights are and to give you a better idea of what to expect. Moving on doesn’t mean you are letting people down or that you should feel ashamed. It means you are human and you care about these things. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from moving on.

Obstacle 4 – Time

It has been said “time heals all wounds”. “Time is the longest distance between two places”. It is true! You’re hurting but you’re fed up of being told that time will heal your wounds. It’s a platitude that’s easy to dish out along with ‘let’s have a cup of tea’.  Yet you don’t always want sympathy and this can grate. You know you need time for the wounds to heal and then you can move on, but you want it to happen NOW.

So, this is natural.  Yes, pain is hard and you want the pain to go away. But the five stages of grief make up our learning to come to terms with what’s happened and the loss we feel. You need to let them take their course. You may have moved on from the denial stage, or the anger, the bargaining, and the depression. You might even be moving into the acceptance stage but boy is this taking a long time. One friend of mine took a year to hit the social scene after a painful break up, preferring to stay home alone in front of the TV and wood burner, than face the bright lights and loud music of the city’s singles and bar scene. The first time she went ‘out out’, she said felt like a rabbit in the headlights, and bolted back to the safety of her home to lick her wounds. You see, it WAS too soon for her. Yes! She needed TIME.  Give yourself time. Don’t rush this. Go at your own pace.

Or perhaps you simply don’t have the time it dedicate to working out how and when to separate… You are ‘just too busy’….. The kids must come first. You’ve got the christening of the best man’s baby daughter as well as Aunt Joan’s second wedding coming up and you really should put on a united front for that.

The thing is – there is probably no good time to separate. Are you putting off the inevitable? Or will time give you the chance to work out what is the right thing to do. Only you know the answer to that but perhaps a good starting point is to get some discrete advice from someone who knows about these things and who can help.

Divorce lawyers – we have a bad press but a lot of us really do care about our clients. We don’t assume you’ve come to see us about a divorce. The first thing we ask is “how can I help” and the second is “do you want to save your marriage”.

Obstacle 5 – Money

Every family is different. Many families simply cannot afford to rent 2 homes or live in 2 homes. There might not be enough to go around. “We can’t afford a divorce”. Arguably it depends on what you consider to be ’cost’. The potential damage to your physical health, mental health, and your children by staying in an unhappy marriage has a cost. Is this is a cost you want to pay?

The thought of legal fees may also be scary. Many lawyers offer discounted rates for first meeting. There are pro bono centres offering legal advice such as CAB (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) and local Law Centres. In Cambridge there is the Anglia Law School Law Clinic (www.anglia.ac.uk) and in Norwich there is Norfolk Community Law Service (www.ncls.co.uk)

Legal aid is no longer available, other than in more exceptional cases and mediation.

How about DIY? Did you know that in 2018 the government introduced an online FREE divorce portal called ‘Get a Divorce’ and which can be found at www.gov.uk/apply-for-divorce? You’ll still need to pay the (rather hefty) court fee – currently £550 but low income earners can apply for a reduction on that fee.

Finances and children may also need to be sorted out. You will be well advised to get advice and representation for that. Yet, the more you and your spouse can agree between you, the less the costs will be. Many lawyers are happy to work on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis or what is known as ‘unbundled’ in the trade. Seeing a divorce lawyer is not a conveyor belt to a contested expensive divorce. Yes, in some cases the costs can be eye watering but there might be good reasons for that. Most cases can be settled out of court using lawyers, using mediation (www.familymedationcouncil.org.uk) and for those that need more formality there is also arbitration (www.ifla.org.uk).

Obstacle 6 – Letting go

It’s really hard to let go of something that was once so precious and special…. So familiar comfortable, natural.  But it’s part of the rite of passage to the future and to help you move on. It’s hard to let go of the hopethat you had for your future. To realign your expectation that life is going to look very different to how you envisaged. You know, give yourself time, get good advice, and surround yourself with those who love you.  The future could be a lot brighter than you think it might be.

If you think we can help you overcome the obstacles to moving on, get in touch.

FM Family Law

Separated and a parent? What you need to know before taking matters into your own hands.

Separated and a parent? What you need to know before taking matters into your own hands.

Everything parents do regarding their children is intended to be in their child’s bests interests. It’s almost impossible, thankfully, to find a parent who will say that what the child needs is less important than what the parent wants. Every decision parents take is based on common sense, an understanding of their children and what they need. Parents don’t hit children because they know to teach them that violence is an unacceptable method of showing anger; parents don’t lock children away because they teach them that this is cruelty and emotional deprivation; parents feed and nurture children to help them grow strong and live well; parents educate children because they know that through education their horizons during childhood and through to adult life will broaden. Parents steer children into and out of social groups which they think are good or not so good for children.

Both parents know that having Parental Responsibility (P.R) makes them equal in the eyes of the law regarding their children. They share exactly the same rights, the same duties and the same obligations in respect of their children as anyone else with P.R. This begs the question that it must be right that they can do pretty much anything they like regarding their children? The simple answer is, NO, they cannot. It is all about agreement and working together with the other parent. On separation or divorce just as during a relationship, parents fashion a style of life co-parenting children, albeit separated. They determine how the children will be cared for, who will assume what responsibility and how information will be shared between them. They may communicate weekly, monthly, daily even and in that way stay abreast of any developments or changes when their children are with their other parent.

But what happens when a parent has concerns about what is happening in the other parent’s home. What should they do? What if the other parent just isn’t being reasonable, isn’t listening and will not do what is best for the child nor will make any attempt to meet half-way? Do they take matters into their own hands as they know best after all? Not if they want to stay on the right side of the law, no.

The courts have said for a very long time that a child’s routine is important, that the routine of life is inextricably linked to the child’s emotional welfare, to his or her future emotional stability, to attachments and coping strategies. It is for this reason that the court will only permit an abrupt and unilaterally imposed change of living arrangements in “exceptional circumstances” and in which “events happening…suggest that the children would be at risk of significant harm if returned to the resident parent “. If a parent believes their child’s safety can only be protected by removing the child from the routine the child knows, they should not take matters into their own hands. Instead, they must do things by the book and they must do 3 things:

  1.  Issue a court application immediately – not the next day or next week but the same day, if possible- the court is open 365 days a year for all emergencies.
  2. Make plain to the court in both the application and the covering letter or email what the risk of harm is and why an urgent hearing is needed and
  3. Insist (where ever one can), that a judge hears the application within hours – not days and certainly not weeks and without informing the other parent.

Anything less will not do.

If there is a real risk to the child the parent must push the court to hear the matter urgently. If they do nothing or if they take matters in to their own hands and cannot meet the test of a significant risk of immediate harm, their own actions will be criticised and the court will restore the previous care arrangements pending a full investigation and a further hearing.

Advice from an experienced Family Lawyer is always the best option. You can be advised as to whether the concerns you have are such that your application will be most likely to succeed or if not, what other orders the court could make to at least hold the position and put in safety measures until the full hearing. The full hearing could be several months away so it is important to get it right, first time.

Blog by Karen Fox

Christmas With Children: For Divorced Families

Christmas With Children: For Divorced Families

With the holiday period fast approaching,  have you and your ex agreed what the children will be doing over Christmas?

Often, separated parents agree to alternate the immediate Christmas period each year, with children spending Christmas Eve night to Christmas day with one parent and then boxing day with the other on alternating years. This allows a child to enjoy Christmas morning with both their parents as they are growing up and allows parents to share in the joy too.

Other parents agree to share Christmas day so that their children have time with one parent in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

What do children want? Many children have a very simple and overwhelming sense of fairness which means they feel it is right for them to spend Christmas with each of their parents, alternating in one of the ways suggested above.  But what children want most of all is the reassurance that whatever the arrangements are, their parents have agreed them and are not arguing about it.

What, in our experience are the most important things for parents to do when it comes to deciding the Christmas arrangements?

  • Communicate suggestions and concerns well in advance.  Don’t leave it to the last minute.  We suggest arrangements should be agreed well in advance of your children finishing school for the Christmas break.
  • Think about the logistics of where your children need to be and when- if there is a long journey between their parent’s homes, is it best for this to be done either side of the immediate Christmas period so that your children feel they have had a settled time with one of their parents.
  • If you can’t agree, consider whether mediation might help you discuss opposing views and reach an agreement.
  • Can you agree a pattern which works each year so that you can tell your children about this and they know what is going to happen every Chrsitmas.