‘The global village’ from a family law perspective

26th April 2019
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My parents divorced in 1987. I was four. My mum and I moved to Switzerland whilst my father stayed in Norway. Communication across borders was nothing like what it is today. Rather than doing video calls the way we do now, my father would record cassettes, which he posted to me, in which he would play some of my favourite music, read me stories and play games with an imaginary me. Dreadfully sad really… He had no part in my schooling, being in a different country, no real sense of the world I was living in other than what he saw on the couple of visits he combined with work. Apart from that our contact was limited to phone calls and holiday times when I would be shipped back to Norway for a few weeks at a time. Not ideal, any of it, and in no way enough to give either of us a true sense of the other’s life on a daily basis. It wasn’t long before I think we both felt the holiday times we had together meant getting to know each other from scratch again each time. By the time we’d had a chance to reconnect, off I went again.

One of the greatest benefits of living in what is increasingly a ‘global village’ is the opening of the world for travel, work, living and loving. The promulgation of cross cultural and cross-border relationships and marriages can only be a good thing, but the flip side of that is the inevitable cross border families which often result on their breakdown.

The expression ‘global village’ is a key word from my previous career as a journalist. It describes the way in which the world has become virtually smaller, through media connections, instant news and electronic communication. The real distance has been bridged by the virtual reality which brings news from the other side of the world straight into our living rooms and our phones within seconds of anything happening, or even instantly, as it happens.

The global village expression is hugely important in media terms, but it seems to me, it is an expression that can be adopted into other areas too, such as family law. Marriages and families happen in this global village, and the interconnection, which it provides, doesn’t just make the world a smaller place, it also helps to potentially bridge the distance in broken families, whether they live 20 minutes apart or in opposite corners of the globe.

Provisions for indirect contact are now as important as provisions for direct contact when it comes to contact arrangements, and everyone is expected to be able to facilitate such contact, wherever they are in the world.

One thing that seems to be adding to this interconnection is the introduction of co-parenting apps. Our Family Wizard is one such app. It is primarily a tool for parents in which they can share information in a neutral forum, sometimes overseen by their solicitors, mediators, or therapists. It enables you to run synchronised calendars, spending records as well as providing a place for basic information sharing. But one of the equally, if not even more important elements of the app, is the journal function. Both parents can create entries on anything they feel is important or worth sharing with the other parent, from notes about pick up to a recap of a child’s winning goal at a football match. From a ‘staying connected’ point of view, there can be no greater way for parents to stay connected than through the successes (or failures) of their children. What the app is trying to do, is elevate the importance of the child, above any issues between the parents themselves.

What is the point in that when you have email, WhatsApp and text messages you may say? The idea is that it takes away some of the conflict that is often close to the surface in mobile messaging, it is a neutral zone where communication relates purely to the matter at hand, namely managing a family spread across two houses.

2houses is another such app. On its home page it boasts of being used by 160,000 families in 163 countries. Now if that isn’t illustrative of a global village I don’t know what is! Another important point it makes is this: “Some choose the telephone, others send text or messages. Others may continue to communicate through their lawyers. All these can work more or less well. Using children as ‘messengers’, however, does not work. 2houses offers a platform that organises the practical aspects of co-parenting without any clashes.”

Now that I can relate to! I would much rather my parents had had a neutral forum for communication than the doorstep at drop off and collection, or indeed me.

I am in no doubt that the availability and accessibility of indirect contact as we know it today, would have changed the relationship that I ended up having with my father. By staying connected throughout, it is possible to significantly reduce any disconnect, also between parents, and the ‘broken’ bit of a family stands a chance of being a little bit less broken.

Whilst I appreciate that a virtual hug will never replace a real one, apps like Our Family Wizard and 2houses, even if managed through the parents, most certainly have a role to play in keeping parents focussed, conflict minimal and the love that remains as strong as it can be.

As for indirect contact generally, well that changes the landscape infinitely.

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