Opinion Column: Big Step Forward For Children

December 6, 2014

Nandi_Davis_200pxX200px_72dpi[Opinion column written by OBA MP Nandi Outerbridge]

The breakup of a relationship between the parents of a child, or children, is almost always adversarial.

As parents move towards making some kind of arrangement for their child’s upbringing, they are apt to see the negotiation as something one parent wins, and the other loses. Too often, the adversarial relationship of the parents is carried into their negotiations over parenting arrangements, so that custody and access can become instruments of aggression and punishment instead of methods to ensure the child benefits as much as possible.

Recently, there has been a worldwide trend towards finding ways to take the sting out of the process by encouraging methods of co-parenting, or shared parenting, in which the parents work out how they will arrange their child’s upbringing so that the winner is the child, not one parent or the other. That takes the process out of the litigative Court environment.

Bermuda is now becoming part of that trend. The bill that was discussed in the House of Assembly a few days ago, the Children Amendment Act, is aimed at expanding the use of mediation as a way of resolving disputes between parents involving custody or access matters, regardless of whether those parents are facing separation or divorce, or were never married.

Hon Wayne Scott, JP, MP, the Minister of Community, Culture and Sports, piloted the bill through the House debate, saying “the principal Act as it currently stands allows for mediation to be ordered by the Court as a result of non-compliance with a Court Order. However, we believe the best interest of the child will be better served by expanding mediation so that it is offered to parents at the front end of the litigation process rather than when parties do not comply with Court orders.”

I see this as a big step forward for children in Bermuda. Co-parenting has lots of benefits for them.

Being the child of parents who are angry with each other isn’t easy. Angry parents tend to want the child as their ally in the dispute. It can be really difficult and unpleasant for the child to try to find a way to have a relationship with both parents without being disloyal to one or the other. Children want secure and loving relationships, and will be terrified of doing something that might cause them to lose a parent’s love.

Parents who work together to provide a set of rules and structure that is consistent between their two homes give the child a sense of consistency. Children respond well to a family structure that is made clear.

If parents have worked out a good way of resolving the problems that inevitably occur, their children can learn first-hand that peaceful resolutions are far more productive than long term grudges.

Children often mimic the behaviour of their parents, both the good and the bad. With both parents working together constructively, the child will be provided with two good role models to follow. This is a far better example for children to see, than two parents who are constantly arguing.

Co-parenting can also ensure that both parents keep the pleasure of being a parent. By sharing custody with an ex-partner, and agreeing to guidelines relating to the child’s wellbeing, each parent has an opportunity to remain a constructive and effective part of the child’s life.

Life as a single parent is very different from life as a couple. Co-parenting allows both parents to spend quality time with the children, while getting the space and time they need to adjust to new circumstances.

I have high hopes for the legislative initiative that the Government has taken. Children in happy families, albeit their parents don’t live together, are much more likely to live happy, constructive lives than children who come from broken, difficult relationships.

I hope parents will embrace this as a better solution than acting out of anger. We need to put our children before our feelings of hurt and animosity. They’ll benefit enormously by that, and Bermuda will benefit as well.

- Nandi Outerbridge

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Comments (3)

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  1. Monica Jones says:

    I am all for this. However, mediation is a very costly process, so I would suggest that you consider adding into the legislation the capacity to have a “family conference” to help the family move towards resolving their conflicts, as another less costly way to restore the relationship for the benefit of the children.

    Additionally, shared custody is great. But to be totally fair, it needs to be accompanied by shared responsibility (especially financial responsibility) by parents who bring children into the world, as no person has yet managed to create a child all by themselves If fathers continue to be able to avoid full financial responsibility for the children they create, then the inequity of placing much of the financial burden on mothers will continue. This hardship is experienced by mothers acutely in many cases where parents are not married.

    I would also suggest that when fathers are required to take full responsibility (from conception) and have shared custody, then we’ll finally see a move towards greater sexual responsibility, and a focus on the creation of effective birth control methods for men to initiate, which will end much of the unwitting gender bias against mothers that still exists when it comes to parenthood.

  2. Mr.Ed says:

    Had we had the same thoughts of bringing both Parents together to share the wellbeing of the Children no matter if there separated in the 70′s and 80′s we would not have the problems with youth behavior today.
    Both the UBP and the PLP are to blame!

  3. Prayerful says:

    Well said Monica. your legal expertise shows.