In the recent family law case of McCune v Theissen  FCCA 1805, the Court highlighted the importance of good communication between separated parents in a parenting dispute. The case sheds light on how failure to communicate properly could result in shared parenting not being awarded.
The parties in this case had two children aged 10 and 13. The Mother sought final parenting orders, requesting the children live with her while spending time with the Father. The Father sought equal and shared parenting of the children. One of the children was suffering from serious psychological problems and required treatment, and the parents were unable to agree on orders concerning the medical needs of their eldest child.
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) sets out what is reasonably practical for the purposes of section 65DAA(1) in considering whether a child should spend equal time with each parent. Section 65DAA(5) requires the Court to have regard to the parent’s current and future capacity to communicate with each other and resolve difficulties that might arise in implementing any arrangement.
In this case, the Judge noted that both parents appeared to be sensible and intelligent people. However, they failed to communicate effectively with each other. The lack of communication was particularly concerning given the Father did not have the same level of insight as the Mother, and the child’s serious health concerns. The Judge concluded that the parents lacked the ability to communicate with each other for the benefit of their children, and the complete absence of effective communication was the principal reason for not making an order for equal time.
The Importance of Communication in Parenting Disputes
Communication is crucial in any relationship, and this is especially true when it comes to parenting disputes. A breakdown in communication can lead to conflicts that could impact not only the parents but also their children. The recent family law case of McCune v Theissen serves as an important reminder of the critical role that communication plays in parenting disputes.
When parents separate, it is not uncommon for conflicts to arise. These conflicts can stem from a range of issues, including disagreements over parenting styles, child support payments, visitation schedules, and much more. The way that parents communicate with each other during these disputes can have a significant impact on their ability to resolve the issues at hand.
When it comes to making parenting arrangements, a Judge must order what they consider to be within the best interests of the children. The psychological health of the children is undoubtably a major factor to be reflected upon. High levels of parental conflict can result in serious psychological harm to a child. In this case, the tumultuous relationship between the parents had impacted the mental wellbeing of their children, who had witnessed their parents fighting.
Where there is a high level of conflict, a Judge is unlikely to order an equal or close to equal time arrangement. To make an order for equal time, a co-parenting relationship must be robust, flexible, incorporates high levels of communication, and each parent trusts and respects the other. When there is a breakdown in communication between separated parents, a Judge may seek to limit the time that a child spends with one of the parents to limit their exposure to, and involvement in the conflict.
The Risks of Poor Communication in Parenting Disputes
Poor communication between separated parents can lead to significant risks for both the parents and their children. For parents, poor communication can lead to delays in making important decisions and resolving conflicts. When communication breaks down, parents may struggle to agree on critical issues, such as parenting arrangements, medical treatment, or education. This can lead to extended litigation, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
For children, poor communication can lead to emotional distress, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, and can impact their overall well-being. Children who witness their parents fighting may feel caught in the middle and may develop feelings of guilt or responsibility for their parents’ conflicts. Over time, this can lead to negative self-image and self-esteem issues, and in extreme cases, even depression and anxiety.
Moreover, the lack of effective communication between parents can also result in shared parenting not being awarded. As seen in McCune v Theissen, where the parents were unable to communicate effectively with each other, a Judge may conclude that they lack the ability to communicate with each other for the benefit of their children. The complete absence of effective communication was the principal reason for not making an order for equal time.
The Benefits of Effective Communication in Parenting Disputes
Effective communication, on the other hand, can lead to positive outcomes for both parents and children. When parents communicate well, they are more likely to make informed decisions, resolve conflicts efficiently, and avoid extended litigation. Effective communication can also lead to improved co-parenting relationships, which can be beneficial for children.
Children benefit greatly from parents who communicate well. When parents work together and communicate effectively, they are more likely to create a stable and supportive environment for their children. Children are more likely to feel secure and confident, which can lead to better social and academic outcomes. Furthermore, effective communication can also promote a positive and healthy relationship between the children and both parents.
Effective communication is not always easy, especially in the midst of a parenting dispute. However, with practice and the right tools, separated parents can learn to communicate more effectively with each other. Here are some tips to improve communication in parenting disputes:
- Keep communication respectful and positive. Avoid name-calling, put-downs, and other negative communication that could further inflame the situation.
- Practice active listening. When communicating with the other parent, take the time to listen to their concerns and needs. This can help to build empathy and understanding between the parties.
- Be clear and specific in your communication. Avoid vague or general statements that could be misinterpreted. Provide clear and specific examples of the issues you are discussing.
- Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This can help to reduce defensiveness and promote more productive communication.
- Focus on problem-solving. Instead of dwelling on past conflicts, focus on finding solutions to current issues. This can help to move the conversation forward and promote more positive outcomes.
Communication is critical in any relationship, and this is especially true in parenting disputes. Effective communication can lead to positive outcomes for both parents and children, while poor communication can lead to negative outcomes. The recent family law case of McCune v Theissen serves as a reminder of the importance of good communication in parenting disputes. By keeping communication respectful, practicing active listening, being clear and specific, using “I” statements, and focusing on problem-solving, separated parents can learn to communicate more effectively with each other, leading to more positive outcomes for themselves and their children.