Voice of the Child

In 2006 the Right Honourable Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE, Lord of Appeal in Ordinary as she then was, delivered a lecture as a guest of the Children’s Law Centre in Belfast.  Lady Hale is now the president of the Supreme Court in London.  What she said in 2006 still rings true today:

“We adults need to remember that children also have rights even if they are not yet old enough to do the things that adults do…  The message I have been trying to convey all along is that to make a child’s rights real you have to make the child real.  We should no more think of calling a child involved in legal proceedings “it” than we should think of calling an adult “it”. 

If you are contemplating divorce or separation and you have children it is extremely important that the children’s needs are prioritised above all else.  The process of separation or divorce is different for every person engaged in it especially when the decision to divorce or separate happens.  However, when an Applicant or a Respondent concludes the divorce or separation they are, for the most part, stronger as a result.  One cannot forget the children during this process given that there may well be discussion or argument over contact between the parents and the children.  Whilst children can be resilient they should not be subjected to any discussion about contact arrangements or money and the parents should approach the divorce/separation positively and should avoid conflict.

A divorce must go to Court and for the vast majority of divorces these proceedings are undefended.  It is therefore beneficial to have a Matrimonial Separation Agreement drawn up and made a Rule of Court at the time of the hearing of the Divorce Petition.  A Matrimonial Separation Agreement is a contract between the parties setting out how they are going to divide up the matrimonial assets and live their lives going forward.  If unmarried parties are separating then a Separation Agreement can be drawn up.  The Court would encourage divorcing/separating parties to come to an amicable agreement in relation to contact for the children.  There has to be a degree of flexibility built into this agreement as children’s lives will change over time as will their interests and needs.  The voice of the child should always be an integral part of any family negotiation.

If parents can speak to each other in a civil manner and come to an agreement as to when and where the children will have contact with each of them, and who will transport them to and from school and to any extracurricular activities, then this has a knock-on effect on the parents’ lives and the children’s lives for the better.  Parents should support each other in matters of discipline and should reach agreement in relation to attending events such as school sports days, school concerts and milestones of the children’s lives such as birthdays.  Above all, remember that a child is a person.

If you have any queries on divorce or separation or contact between a parent and child please do not hesitate to contact Enda Lavery on 02890329801.