Separation and How the Courts Treat Dance

As a mum of a 12 year old dancer, I know just how much work goes into dancing both by the children, and also by the parents. I stop short of calling myself a “dance mum” for fear of evoking images of those dreadful reality TV programmes, where the mums are fanatical in the support of their children.  But, it takes a lot of commitment and juggling, and there are the financial implications too.  With a full time job as a family solicitor to add into the mix, dancing does not make my life easy!  Rewarding, yes, easy, no!

Recently I have been involved in a couple of cases, where children danced, and I thought it would be useful to share some of the issues that can cause problems when parents separate, and their child or children dance.

Firstly, I should define dance. I don’t mean attending one class a week.  I mean the child/children who attend multiple classes, and are involved in dance competitions.  I know that some schools are competition schools, with comps over most weekends.  My daughter’s dance school is a nice mix between exam work and comps, so we probably attend 5 or 6 comps a year.

Next, in terms of parents, I should say that this applies to married or unmarried parents equally.

When parents separate, there can be a fall out as to how much time the children spend with each parent. Dancing does tend to complicate matters.  Often (and I apologise if I’m overgeneralising here) there is one parent who is committed to the dance routine, the other parent, less so.  Quite often children alternate between parents’ homes on a weekend.  This can mean that dance lessons are missed, and in particular, competitions can become a real bone of contention.

I have dealt with a few cases recently, where the parent who was not so supportive of dance was seeking to punish the other parent by not taking the child to dance, or to competitions. This issue has ended up being litigated through the court.

The court’s starting point is that it is in the interests of the child to spend time with both parents. This means that if the children do miss out on extra-curricular activities, the court’s view is that this is balanced by the fact that they are spending quality time with a parent.  So, if you are the parent of a young dancer (up to 11ish), it is highly likely that a court will not place too much importance on dancing.  The importance will be placed on spending time with both parents.

As a child gets older, their wishes and feelings are very much taken into account. If a child is very committed to dancing, and this is their passion, they will be listened to, provided they are of an age where they have sufficient maturity and understanding.  This is normally about high school age, but it can be younger, where a child is extremely articulate and vocal about their desire to dance.

It is very important that your solicitor knows and understands the commitment that dancing requires. Quite often, competitions run over more than one weekend. Often the children are involved in troupes and don’t want to let down other children. There are shows that require a lot of commitment from the children, and from the parents too.

Here are my top tips to try and keep everything calm for the children:-

  1. Before you separate discuss the issue of dancing. Try to compromise – would it be possible to do less classes when the other parent has contact, or take another class during the week, for example.
  2. Try and keep things amicable. Emotions run high, but you have to concentrate on putting a child’s needs first. The more you are able to resolve amicably, the less stress your child (and you) will be placed under.
  3. If you are finding it difficult to resolve these issues yourselves, refer to a family mediator. Legal aid is still available (subject to means assessment) for mediation, where it is very limited indeed for contact disputes.
  4. Make sure that you involve the other parent. They may not have had much involvement when you were together, but you will find that they are much more supportive, if they are involved, and understand just how much your child loves to dance.

vickie-medd-hsVicky Medd is a solicitor and family mediator at Ridley & Hall Legal Limited, Huddersfield.

For further advice please call 01484 538 421 and ask to speak to a member of the family department.