Both parents in divorce have to ensure that kids' interest comes first

We agree with Mr Nicholas Tan (Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce cases; March 4) and Mrs Geraldine Tan Chee Lian (Look into factors leading to abuse of stepchildren; March 8) that a child can be profoundly affected by the breakdown of the family and by divorce proceedings. The need to protect the best interests of the child was one of the key reasons for the establishment of the Family Justice Courts (FJC) in 2014.

Today, court counsellors are brought in on all applications which involve children, to help parents focus on and understand the needs of their children.

FJC encourages parents to agree on parenting arrangements through court mediation and counselling and only when parents are not able to reach an agreement would a judge be called on to determine custody, care, control and access issues. Child representatives may also be called upon to represent the interests of the child in more complex cases.

The presence of both parents in the life of a child is pivotal to his development and there are a variety of court orders which could facilitate the parent-and-child relationship. "Joint custody'' allows both parents to jointly make major decisions for the child. This is different from a "care and control'' order, which determines which parent the child should live with primarily, while the other parent is granted access to the child.

A shared "care and control'' order means that a child would spend substantial time with both parents and each parent has the responsibility to make day-to-day decisions for the child when he resides with that parent.

However, unless both parents are sufficiently enlightened to put their personal conflicts aside and co-parent with a common set of principles, the child could be subjected to further stress from navigating the different expectations of each parent.

The decisions of FJC often involve intimate issues. It is understandable that an affected parent or a child may feel disappointed with what may seem like an adverse outcome when emotions run high.

However, it is important to recognise that the role of the court is to apply the law to reach a just decision, while protecting the welfare of the children. Ultimately, the responsibility rests on both parents to cooperate with each other to ensure that the children feel safe to continue their relationships with both parents after the divorce.

Social science research says a key tenet to effective co-parenting is to minimise inter-parental conflict. This has shown to help with children's healthy adjustment to their parents' divorce. Thus, we always exhort parents to put aside their personal differences, and be bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder for the sake of their children's future.

Chia Wee Kiat

Registrar

Family Justice Courts

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2018, with the headline 'Both parents in divorce have to ensure that kids' interest comes first'. Print Edition | Subscribe