How parents use ‘the best interests of the child’ to define and negotiate a ‘good’ post-separation relationship.

Recognising and facilitating multiple and differing relationship priorities after separation
Thursday 26 July, 1030 – 1050


Kristin Natalier
Flinders University

Priscilla Dunk-West
Flinders University

The “best interests of the child” is a fundamental element of cultural and legal definitions of appropriate post-separation parenting. Empirical investigations typically highlight the ways in which this principle is used to either hide or facilitate gendered abuse and conflict. This has been a necessary corrective to failures to recognise violence and control after separation but stands in contrast to the under-developed focus on the lived experiences of the high proportion of people who report little or no conflict with their former partners.
In this paper, we present data from 28 in-depth interviews with men and women who self-identify as having a good relationship with their former partner and parent of their children. The participants used the concept of the best interests of the child as a tool for negotiating the emotional and practical dimensions of post-separation parenting (child oriented) and partnership (adult oriented). Parents used the concept to emphasise their agency in defraying conflict and promoting a sense of shared endeavour in raising children and sustaining a meaningful connection after separation. It allowed them to define relationships as “good” even when these relationships were challenging.
Our analysis indicates that the best interests of the child can be an important and generative concept for people as they seek to make sense of their relationships, practices and identities after separation.