In this episode, family lawyer and co-author of book ‘Surviving Your Split’ Rebekah Mannering, draws on her own professional and personal experience to offer invaluable advice for those navigating the challenges that can arise during these difficult times.
We cover some of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to family law, challenges related to the emotional impact of separation and divorce and tips for those trying to make co-parenting work.
Rebekah Mannering (00:01): Give the other party the benefit of the doubt. That’s easy to judge and fire back something and say, “Well, this is typical of you. You are always doing this.” It’s okay to validate those emotions, but don’t say it.
Laura Jenkins (00:13): In The Blend is a podcast series that helps parents navigate life within a blended family. Join me as I speak with experts and guests to get practical advice on how to have a harmonious, blended family life. This series dives deep into the unique dynamics, logistics and challenges of raising a blended family. From new partners to juggling mixed finances, we will help guide you through it.
(00:42): Hello and welcome to In The Blend. Well, today we’re joined by a special guest who has written a book on separation, divorce and family law in Australia. Drawing on her own personal experience and her family law expertise, she offers insights and advice for navigating the challenges that can arise during these difficult times. But Rebekah Mannering’s story doesn’t end there. She has also built a new life in a blended family with all of the joys and complexities that come with it. So today we’ll also touch on her personal journey and some of the lessons that she’s learned along the way. Whether you’re going through separation or divorce yourself or just interested in learning more about this important topic, you won’t want to miss this conversation. So without further ado, let’s welcome Rebekah to the show.
(01:33): Well, hello Rebekah and welcome to In The Blend. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Rebekah Mannering (01:40): Thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here.
Laura Jenkins (01:42): Rebekah, I am extremely impressed that you have written a book on the subject of surviving your split after divorce together with your sister, and was really interested to chat with you when I came across the book and also learned that you’ve now gone on to have a blended family of your own. So I thought you’d be a perfect candidate to come and have a chat with us on the podcast today.
(02:08): Look, to start off, I would love it if you can tell us a little bit about your background and how it led you to write this book on separation, divorce and family law in Australia.
Rebekah Mannering (02:19): Sure. So my background is I’m a family lawyer. And I’ve been a family lawyer now for, oh, many years. Many, many years now that I think of it. And out of the blue, my then husband announced that our relationship was over. And that was fine. That was a bit of a shock, but these things happen. And even though I’m a family lawyer, I found it was just very confronting having to suddenly deal with everything. Just things like Medicare cards and private health and banks and child support. And when you’re feeling at your absolute lowest, you suddenly have all of these things you have to do and try and maintain your work and also your parenting.
(03:20): And I remember thinking I could really deal with some easy guideline to help me through this. And then my sister Lucy had the same experience. And she said to me, “Look, we need to have some sort of list. I need a list.” And so that’s really what led to us doing the book, because I thought really would’ve been helpful just to have somewhere to go to just say, “Oh my God, what do I have to do today?”
Laura Jenkins (03:52): Absolutely. And Rebekah, I was just letting you know before we started recording, I’ve read the book and it is full of a whole lot of information and bits and pieces that you wish you knew at the time, I’m sure if you’re going through it. So let’s talk a little bit about family law in Australia. And this is probably an enormous question, but I’d love to know from your experience, what are some of the most important things that people should know about this area of law?
Rebekah Mannering (04:25): So with parenting, I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s a child focused jurisdiction. So the paramount consideration for the court is what is in the best interest of the children. And I think that gets a little bit lost sometimes because when you look at the forms, the children aren’t really even mentioned until about sometimes page three or four. So it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re actually looking at. How do we work out arrangements that are best for our children?
(04:57): I think the other thing that parents don’t really understand perhaps is that the court doesn’t want to be your third parent. The court really wants you to go off and do it yourself if you can. It can be a bit of a blunt instrument, court orders. And the court can’t really take into account all of the nuances of your own family, like you can, like parents can. So the most important thing is to really look at why is the family in court, and do they really need to be there? Is there another option? Because it’s not a nice place to be.
Laura Jenkins (05:43): No, no. And I like that idea of thinking about the court as not the third parent either. And not expecting too much, I think is what you’re saying by that, isn’t it? In terms of what direction you need from them to some degree.
Rebekah Mannering (06:00): Yes, that’s right. So the court can’t resolve issues very, very quickly or sometimes even very well. I mean, the judges are all fantastic and the senior judicial registrars. They’re all passionate about children and children’s rights. But the lawyers and the judges, we don’t know the families like the parents do.
Laura Jenkins (06:26): Absolutely. There’s a big emotional aspect at play when anyone gets separated or divorced, as you know. And I’d love to touch on some of those. So things like the first night without your children or the first month without your children. And I know your book covers that very topic as well. Parenting negotiations, child support, navigating special days like Christmas and birthdays. Can you talk about some of the most common challenges that people face in these areas?
Rebekah Mannering (06:55): Yes, absolutely. I mean, personally for me, I found it really hard. My littlest was only three and had never spent a night away from me. And my then five-year-old had only ever really been to the odd night with my mom or with my sisters. So for me it was a really big step to not have them there. But at the same time, I knew that they loved their dad and that they really needed to have time with him as well.
(07:25): So I found it was really important to make sure I did something fun for me, so that I wasn’t just sitting around moping. And also, I was able to reassure the children that I was okay, daddy’s okay. You’re allowed to go and love both parents and you’re allowed to be happy in both households. It was really important for me to be able to say to particularly the five-year-old, and she was quite at the time, “That’s okay. Mummy’s going to go off and do something with her friends, and it’s okay to go and have fun.”
Laura Jenkins (08:01): Yes. I can imagine it would be very easy to want to sit around and mope as well. It’s a really emotional time and-
Rebekah Mannering (08:11): It is.
Laura Jenkins (08:12): Must take a lot of strength as well to proactively think, “Right, I’m going to go and do X, Y, and Z,” whatever that might be to help fill that gap.
Rebekah Mannering (08:23): Absolutely. Because the children really, they are so good at picking up when we’re distressed. So the last thing that they need when they’re navigating this new situation is to be worried, “Oh my God, mum’s at home and I’m really worried about her.” So it’s really important to reassure them that you’re okay, but it’s also good to have a little bit of time out again too.
Laura Jenkins (08:47): That’s true, that’s true. If we look on the positive side there as well and reframe it that way. Absolutely.
Rebekah Mannering (08:53): Yes. Particularly if you know that they’re safe and they’re loved with their other parent. So it’s absolutely okay to have that time for yourself.
Laura Jenkins (09:04): Definitely. And what about shared moments like Christmas and birthdays and those sorts of things? How have you navigated those, or what issues have you seen in your experience as well around those shared days?
Rebekah Mannering (09:19): So we’re very lucky that there’s no risk issues in our setup. So for us, and I think that’s true of most parents, thank goodness. So for us, just remembering it’s the children’s day is probably the most important thing to do. So being able to say hi to the other parents, invite them in for a mimosa if you don’t have to drive. Just letting them see that no matter what, everyone loves them and everyone’s happy and everyone’s there for them. Even when you’re internally grimacing.
Laura Jenkins (09:55): Definitely, putting on that brave face.
Rebekah Mannering (09:58): Yeah, that’s right. And then I find that over time issues settle and everyone is pretty much amicable. There’s been a few times where we’ve all been on the sidelines at soccer or football going, “Oh, happy families.” But as far as the children are concerned, all they remember is that we were all there and that we’re all watching them, and that they were just incredibly loved.
Laura Jenkins (10:27): And in your professional experience, have you had any issues with shared days and parents not being able to perhaps be in the same room or agree on who is going to have access to the children on those days?
Rebekah Mannering (10:43): Yes, and that can be horrendous. I’ve had matters where parents have ended up in jail on Christmas Day. And that is just absolutely the worst thing for your child. That really is the worst thing for their children. And if that’s going to be an issue, if there’s going to be issues of drugs or violence or alcohol, then we try to separate families as much as possible because children don’t need to remember that. I always have to remind myself that because I’m now a solicitor, I don’t know when that happened. I don’t know when I became so old. I generally deal with the worst of the worst masses.
Laura Jenkins (11:20): Right. You’ve seen it all.
Rebekah Mannering (11:26): That’s right. So these are the outliers. These aren’t the normal masses. But yes, it’s horrible when you have that sort of thing happen.
Laura Jenkins (11:36): Oh, it would be. And I can imagine some of the more common issues centre around those day-to-day parenting negotiations or the child support would be another big one, I’m assuming as well.
Rebekah Mannering (11:49): Yes, yes.
Laura Jenkins (11:51): So let’s move on to your current situation. And I know you’re now part of a blended family yourself.
Rebekah Mannering (11:58): Yes.
Laura Jenkins (11:59): And I would love to know what are some of the unique challenges and rewards of being in this kind of family structure?
Rebekah Mannering (12:06): So we started out with very little kids, and we’ve been together now for about a decade. The children were very little, and it was a lot of navigating schools and friendship groups with other parents, and also just being able to rely on the other parents to help out. We ended up with very sporty children, so it was fairly common for us to have a match at Ipswich and then one at Samford Valley, which is probably about two hours apart.
Laura Jenkins (12:44): Oh my goodness.
Rebekah Mannering (12:46): So just being able to negotiate that. And I think a lot of parents would recognize that situation, being in the car most of Saturday, trying to get kids to matches and being able to constructively talk about, “Hey, can you take this child here and I’ll take this child there?” Yes.
Laura Jenkins (13:10): Exactly. There’s a lot of logistics, especially in those younger years and the school age years where there’s a lot of toing and froing that has to be done.
Rebekah Mannering (13:18): There really is. And also lots of birthdays of friends and birthdays of cousins and siblings and trying to make sure that kids get to have those special days without too much… Yes.
Laura Jenkins (13:30): Angst or upset.
Rebekah Mannering (13:30): Too much angst. Yes, that’s right.
Laura Jenkins (13:39): And so in the early days, did you have a co-parenting schedule in terms of pickups and drop offs, and those sorts of things where you could?
Rebekah Mannering (13:49): Yes, we did. We did. I found, and it’s funny because as a family lawyer, I can spend hours drafting up beautiful orders and beautiful parenting plans, but I find having a set schedule to begin with is helpful, but that goes by the wayside after about six months if everyone’s cooperating. So it’s probably good to have it in place and something to fall back on. But pretty much six months after we’d spent all weekend pretty much running children to their various activities, we all just made it work.
Laura Jenkins (14:32): So it just evolves over time.
Rebekah Mannering (14:33): It does. And I think the most important thing is to just remember, it’s got to be about the children and their childhood. I mean, you can obviously overschedule them, but it has to be about getting them to see their siblings and their cousins and having that time, that special time.
Laura Jenkins (14:54): Definitely, keeping that front of mind. And in your new family structure, have you got stepchildren now as well?
Rebekah Mannering (15:02): Yes, I do.
Laura Jenkins (15:05): So you’re a stepmum and a mum. And there’s ex-partners and co-parents in your family unit.
Rebekah Mannering (15:10): Yes.
Laura Jenkins (15:15): So I’m in a similar situation as well. So one topic that often comes up in blended families like ours is co-parenting. And I’d love to ask you, Rebekah, how do you and your partner navigate this, and what advice would you give to other blended families who are trying to make this whole co-parenting thing work as well?
Rebekah Mannering (15:34): I think the most important thing is to take time. It’s really, I think the biggest issues I see with matters that go to court is the communication. Just firing off that ranty email in response to something that has annoyed you or upset you, which then in turn leads to the other party firing off a ranty email back. And then by the time everyone has vented, we’ve all lost sight of what we’re actually trying to do, give the other party the benefit of the doubt. I think it’s easy to see our relationship with them in the prism of our failed relationship with them. And it’s easy to judge and fire back something and say, “Well, this is typical of you. You are always doing this.” It’s okay to think it. It’s okay to validate those emotions, but don’t say it.
Laura Jenkins (16:31): Or put it in writing.
Rebekah Mannering (16:33): Yeah, don’t. It’s just not helpful. It really just attracts from whatever point you’re trying to make. And even if you’re right, it’s probably not going to be constructive.
Laura Jenkins (16:48): And do a lot of those messages either verbal or written, get presented then in various cases-
Rebekah Mannering (16:55): Absolutely, yes.
Laura Jenkins (16:58): And used as evidence against the particular person in the relationship.
Rebekah Mannering (16:59): Yes. I vividly recall, probably one of the worst examples is a five-day trial where every single text message basically was put to either parent and they were cross-examined on it. And I’m sure when they sent those text messages or emails, those parents thought they were really sticking it to the other parent. But taken as a whole, the judge is just looking at both of them going, “Are you the most childish family in the world, or is this how you raise your children?”
Laura Jenkins (17:38): Absolutely. They’re not thinking it’s going to be on a big screen in front of a room of people all critiquing the back and forth.
Rebekah Mannering (17:47): That’s right. And I think the biggest message that came out of that trial was that everything they were trying to negotiate was just lost in the noise because it just descended into this slanging match. And there were some very, very big issues in the family that needed to be addressed quickly, but because their co-parenting relationship and their communication skills were so bad, everything got lost.
Laura Jenkins (18:14): And the problem is the kids as well, isn’t it?
Rebekah Mannering (18:18): Yes.
Laura Jenkins (18:18): And when the kids are old enough to read, they can read your phone, they can read your messages. They can hear your side anyway of what you’re saying.
Rebekah Mannering (18:30): Yes, yes. Oh, big flappy ears hear everything. And teenagers are so good, no matter how much you think you’ve hidden all of your messages, they do find them. They do Google searches and they’re…
Laura Jenkins (18:44): Oh, dear. It’s role modeling that behavior, isn’t it? That-
Rebekah Mannering (18:51): It is, it is. Yes. I think our children get a little bit sick of, we very much model conflict resolution skills. And I think they get a little bit sick of it because they’ll go, “Oh, God, she’s got her mediator voice on again.”
Laura Jenkins (19:11): Oh, I love it. Well, that’s better than the other one, Rebekah.
Rebekah Mannering (19:15): It is. Much better than having the police turn up.
Laura Jenkins (19:20): Definitely, better than having your messages broadcast in the courtroom full of people.
Rebekah Mannering (19:22): Yes.
Laura Jenkins (19:27): So in your opinion, what are some of the most important things that people should consider from a family law perspective when it comes to blended families? So when they’re perhaps merging into a new family unit or a second marriage or relationship where there might be other children involved, what would be some of the things you would suggest they should be thinking about?
Rebekah Mannering (19:49): I think the most important thing is to put the children first. So it’s got to be child focused. It’s a child focused jurisdiction. We only get one shot at giving our children a fantastic childhood. So I think just really thinking at all stages, is this good for my child? Is this what my children need?
(20:14): The other thing is to try and keep the jealousy at bay. And that could be really hard. It’s horrible thinking, “Oh God, my children are being looked after by another woman. Oh my God, that’s horrible.” But try and reframe that in your own mind and say, “It’s fantastic that my children are loved in both households. And it’s fantastic that I get this guilt free time for me.” I did my masters and I took up marathon running, and I was able to do that without having to think, “Oh God, where are my children?” Because I knew that they were safe and they were loved in the other home.
(20:49): I think probably one of the most important things is just be really mindful of boundaries. Be mindful that the other parent is probably thinking, oh, is my child being, am I losing my child to another parent? Am I losing my child to their stepmother or stepfather? Just be really conscious that generally it’s really not helpful for stepparents to say anything to the other parent. It’s not. And I’m really conscious about that. It’s not my place to say negative stuff to my stepkids’ mum. That’s not my place. If she and my partner have an issue, they will sort it out themselves. And I do really well, but I’m not going help. Nothing I say can be helpful.
Laura Jenkins (21:47): No, and I think that’s a really good point. And I think that’s something that through a little bit of experimentation as a stepparent, you figure that out pretty quickly. But it’s not necessarily about you. Well, it’s not about you, it’s just the situation.
Rebekah Mannering (22:04): That’s right. And-
Laura Jenkins (22:04): So you say it to your partner instead.
Rebekah Mannering (22:11): Yes. Absolutely. And just be really careful of what you text your partner, because it’s very easy to accidentally text somebody else.
Laura Jenkins (22:18): True.
Rebekah Mannering (22:19): Yes. My sister and I have a saying, “Text your sister, not your ex.”
Laura Jenkins (22:26): And vent.
Rebekah Mannering (22:26): But make sure you’re actually-
Laura Jenkins (22:28): But get it right in the to field.
Rebekah Mannering (22:29): Yes, that’s right.
Laura Jenkins (22:32): Oh, that’s good advice. Your sister has been through a similar situation as well who you co-wrote the book with, is that correct?
Rebekah Mannering (22:39): Yeah, she has. Yeah, she has.
Laura Jenkins (22:41): Oh, so you’ve got a nice relationship with one another by the sounds of it.
Rebekah Mannering (22:46): Yeah, I’m really lucky. I have two sisters and I love them both dearly, and we’ve really got each other’s back.
Laura Jenkins (22:56): Oh, that’s so nice and so important when you are in blended family situations. I think that inner circle of people in your life become more important than ever.
Rebekah Mannering (23:03): Oh, definitely. Yes.
Laura Jenkins (23:07): So you have got that person you can vent to or you can go and have a drink with or a coffee when you need to get something off your mind.
Rebekah Mannering (23:15): Yes, definitely.
Laura Jenkins (23:18): Finally, looking back on your own journey, what advice would you give to someone who’s currently going through separation or divorce perhaps, or it could be someone who’s trying to build a new life in a blended family?
Rebekah Mannering (23:31): I think definitely giving each other the benefit of the doubt is important. It’s really easy to get caught up in the frantic pace and to just assume the worst of everyone. Communication is so important, communication that’s constructive. I noticed that you had the developer of Two Houses on the other day. That is such a great app. We really do love that, because it gets everything into the one place. I find that people tend to be a little bit more careful when they’re communicating to their co-parent using the app. It’s almost like they think, “Oh, it’s a businesslike arrangement,” rather than firing off angry texts, which just don’t help anyone.
Laura Jenkins (24:18): No, no. That’s what stood out for me with that discussion as well, is that ability to keep it completely neutral.
Rebekah Mannering (24:26): Absolutely.
Laura Jenkins (24:27): And taking emotion out of those requests.
Rebekah Mannering (24:33): It’s so helpful. I don’t think I’ve done a single affidavit in the last ever where I don’t have angry texts going backwards and forward, and the judges hate it. The judges just look at parents and go, “Oh, come on, grow up. You’re the parents.” I mean, there are horrific matters where there are serious risks, and those matters need to be in the court, but generally, most families don’t need to be there. They just need to be cooling it a bit and just putting the kids first, just remembering this is about them, not about us.
Laura Jenkins (25:12): Very good advice. Rebekah, we’re almost at time here, but just lastly, I’d love to talk a little bit about your book and where people might be able to go to access a copy of the book that you and your sister have written, and also to get in touch with you as well.
Rebekah Mannering (25:30): So the book’s for sale at most bookshops. So you can buy it directly from MEP, the publisher, and you can buy the ebook direct from MEP. You can download it on Kindle, and you can also find it in the library. I always feel a bit funny about saying, “How do you buy my book?” So I tend to say, “It’s in the library.”
Laura Jenkins (25:55): Go and reserve your copy. I love it. I love it. Well, so many people tend to get their books on those library apps now as well, so that’s fantastic.
Rebekah Mannering (26:03): Yeah.
Laura Jenkins (26:04): Oh, such an achievement writing that book.
Rebekah Mannering (26:07): Thank you.
Laura Jenkins (26:08): And putting so much helpful information out into the world.
Rebekah Mannering (26:11): Thank you.
Laura Jenkins (26:14): No, I really do recommend it for anybody who might be going through any separation or divorce. It is an invaluable resource.
Rebekah Mannering (26:23): Perfect. Thank you so much.
Laura Jenkins (26:25): And Rebekah, just lastly, how can people get in touch with you?
Rebekah Mannering (26:27): So my firm is called Northside Family Law, so it’s www.northsidefamilylaw.co.au. We’re based in Sandgate and Chermside.
Laura Jenkins (26:39): Up in Queensland.
Rebekah Mannering (26:40): That’s right.
Laura Jenkins (26:41): Fantastic. Well, thanks again, Rebekah. I’ve so enjoyed our chat today.
Rebekah Mannering (26:45): Thanks so much. Thank you.
Laura Jenkins (26:48): Thanks for listening to the In The Blend podcast. The show notes for this episode are available at intheblend.com.au. And if you like what you heard, be sure to subscribe and please rate and review in your podcasting app. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.