A scheme has recently been piloted in Surrey, where I live, forcing parents who are separating to go to 'custody classes' so that they realise the damage that break ups inflict on children.
The scheme is being funded by Cafcass, the children's courts service, and has been enforced by our district judge, Alison Raeside. It consists of two free evening classes, which, upon completion, aim to make parents 'reconsider' their behaviour.
When I first read about it, I found myself nodding vigorously as I progressed through the story. Phrases like 'using children as ammunition' and 'parents who denigrate each other' leapt out at me, and in my head, I immediately had a picture of some sink estate, Jeremy Kyle show style family shrieking the odds over paternity, custody and fidelity, all in front of a clutch of crying, barefoot, grubby children.
But then I saw this paragraph and a cold chill went down my spine: 'Details of the scheme emerged days after a senior judge warned middle-class parents can damage their children permanently by using them as ammunition in the divorce courts.'
It stopped me in my tracks. I am the person who is being warned. It is me and my ex who are potentially damaging our child. It is the likes of us who these classes are aimed at. People with good jobs, a nice home, and whose child enjoys a good education. And all those 'luxuries' are actually quite meaningless. My smugness evaporated. I am potentially causing life long harm to my little boy. And I need to teach myself to stop, before someone else forces this lesson upon me.
Have you taken parenting classes or been to mediation or counselling to help you through your divorce or separation?