Smart Separation

Divorce: Who owns the kids?

Jean Paul Getty the third was a sixteen year old kid when he was kidnapped.

His Grandpa refused to pay a ransom because he had other grand kids and didn’t want to potentially have to pay ransoms for them too. His Dad said he’d pay the ransom if his Mum gave up her rights to custody of all of her other kids. I’d probably do that too, if I’d received my sixteen year old son’s ear in the mail, like she did.

They were real gentlemen, these Gettys. And they really “got” family didn’t they? You can see more of their madness in the current movie.
But some separated parents have their own movie, and it’s painful for them and their kids. Often the story is that Dad or Mum thinks they have a right to all or some of the week with their kids, and once the conversation about kids is about rights, suddenly the stage is filled with the parents, and the kids are nowhere to be seen. Except off camera, caught in the crossfire.

The people who have rights in custody disputes in Australia are the children. Only the children. And guess what that leaves for Mum and Dad? Responsibility. Only responsibility. The responsibility to be the grownups, and to uphold the Family Law Act, which says that children have the right to a meaningful relationship with both their parents. And that’s what the Family Law Acts says because the legislators listened to the social scientists, who have always known that is the best indicator for children’s emotional wellbeing.

The best tip any separating parent can be given is to focus on their child’s wellbeing. Not because it’s what the law says, but because in fact it’s what every parent and every sensible person on the planet knows to be right.

It can be really tough for parents to live out this intention when they are separating. It isn’t always easy to see what is happening for the kids in the midst of the sadness, fear, anger and chaos that separation can bring. It is especially difficult to stand back and see how what is going on between you and your ex looks from the kids’ point of view, and how they feel about that. It can also be really hard for people to see how they are contributing to conflict and arguments about their kids as well as about everything else that is being contested. In fact, my experience suggest that not too many parents can manage this juggle without some help.

Deciding to be vulnerable enough to ask for help might stop some people looking for support from a child psychologist or mediator. That’s a tough one, but maybe not as tough when it is about the kids who are always grateful when peace reigns and their parents remember to act like the grown-ups. Unlike the parents of those kids who suffer the fallout of their parents divorce for their whole life. And unlike the Getty men who somehow forgot to love their kids. At all.