All in the 'mindset' – the key to achieving what's best for a child when parents separate or divorce

Parents often have different opinions on the best way to bring up a child. Each parent has their own views about what is best and these views may differ as the child grows from a toddler into a teenager. The parents form their views on the basis of their own mindset which has itself been developed by their own life experiences and environment.

When parents separate, these differences of opinion can escalate to such a point that the parents find themselves unable to discuss what is best for their child. A vacuum is created and the child finds itself stuck in the middle. 

When that happens, parents often consult a solicitor who specialises in family law and one of the most important decisions at that time involves the solicitor exploring with the client which legal process is likely to achieve the best result. Unfortunately, it is the case that what constitutes "the best result"  is often hard to define. Parents may decide to attend mediation or consult collaborative lawyers and while this is an excellent first step, it does not alter the nature of the dispute or lessen the conflict. There then follows negotiations and it is during these negotiations that we return to the concept of mindset.

It is likely, in order to reach an arrangement that suits both parents and is in the child's best interests,  that one of the parents mindset will have to alter or perhaps both parents will have to look at the situation slightly differently.

It is not only the mindset of the client that is relevant but also the mindset of the client's advisor. The lawyers/mediators come to the table with a set of views which have been built up from their own personal experience and conduct of previous cases and both consciously and subconsciously these views can have an effect on the case.

It would seem that in any negotiation if the mindsets remain unaltered, then a positive outcome is unlikely. How best to change the mindset? Basic negotiation principals indicate that there should be a strong focus on the interests of all the parties involved. Nothing could be more true when discussing what is best for children. One of the most powerful tools that a mediator can adopt is the mutualising effect of both parents wishing the best outcome for their children.

To properly consider interests, there needs to be a detailed discussion about the children, their likes, dislikes, habits, preferences and how current situations are affecting them. If age appropriate, there has to be a methodology for obtaining their views. All parties involved in the discussion have to be aware and recognise if their own mindset is affecting negotiations. There requires to be an openness of views and an ability to respond to the questions, and this can only be properly undertaken in round the table discussions, whether they be in the form of mediation or using the collaborative process.

It may be that the underlying mindset doesn't change but a better understanding of the other person's interests can only be positive.

If an individual can be aware of their own mindset and open about it, then the other party will be better able to understand where that person is coming from.

In the short term it may not be possible to change a person's mindset but a better understanding of the person's interest is more likely to result in an outcome that is satisfactory and works to the benefit of the children involved.

Alan Susskind is a Partner in Harper Macleod's Family Law team and an accredited Family Law Mediator with more than 20 years experience in all types of actions.

Harper Macleod's team of family solicitors understands that divorce and separation can have a huge impact on your life, and can guide you through the best course of action with sensitivity and objectivity. Getting the best advice is crucial to resolving your situation, and there are many options available to you, from litigation and arbitration to negotiation, mediation and collaboration. We have also designed a number of packaged fees which, in certain circumstances, will let you know from the outset what the costs will be.

To talk to Alan or one of our team call 0141 227 9545