PENNY COLES talks to the York co-author of a new book which tells parents undergoing a divorce that the children must come first.

THE acclaimed seventies film Kramer vs Kramer was praised in its day for giving equal weight to both parent's rights.

Today, divorces remain messy affairs, and a new book by two esteemed York authors reminds parents a smooth divorce is all about putting their children first and how to do it.

The authors of the guide are two leading lights with years of combined expertise, from The Centre For Separated Families, a national charity based in Micklegate.

Karen Woodall is a director at the charity and she not only works with her co-author Nick, who looks after corporate development, but he is also her husband.

Karen, 45, said: "You don't have to like your ex-partner, but you have to accept that your ex is still your child's other parent and you both still have shared responsibilities.

"It takes a lot of hard work, but it is all about trying to get parents to look at life through their children's eyes. If separation is handled well any adverse impact on their children may be limited, in terms of both time and severity.

"Many children of separated parents thrive and flourish.

"But when separation goes badly and in particular, where children are drawn into parental conflict, then the effects can be damaging for children.

"Evidence shows that children in this situation suffer poorer outcomes and reduced life chances.

"They are more likely to achieve less well at school, to truant or to run away from home.

"If, however, parents are able to resolve their differences about parenting issues at the time of separation and then subsequently, these risks can be avoided."

Karen said herself and Nick started writing the book last September. Karen said: "It all began after we were approached by book publisher, Piatkus, following an article we had published in the Guardian newspaper.

"We thought it was a great idea because we wanted to put the tools and strategies that we are using here into a format that would be more readily accessible.

"The book offers child focused strategies for building a co-operative parenting relationship after family separation, focussing on the most difficult issues.

"It explores the different experiences of mothers and fathers and offers support to each in coming to terms with divorce and separation and continuing close relationships with children.

"It is all about parental responsibilities not rights and about how to best build a relationship of co-operating parents after separation.

"It is packed full of ideas about communicating better as separated parents, resolving conflict and building a new way of being mum and dad that offers children the continuity that they need to survive and thrive.

"We recommend separated couples avoid making children meet a new boyfriend or girlfriend within the first few months of the end of the parents' relationship.

"And that divorced and separated parents should never ask their children to act as messengers to avoid talking or dealing with their former spouse or partner."

The charity, based in Barker Lane, was set up in 1973 when the majority of the work carried out was with one parent families.

Over the last ten years the charity has grown and now works with everyone affected by divorce or separation.

Karen said: "There are about 4,500 families affected by divorce or separation in York, and of those there are about 300 people on the centre's books.

"We provide help on a face-to-face basis and handle about 70 calls and emails each week."

The centre is a charity and supported by charitable trusts, therefore most of the services are free although small donations are accepted sometimes.

The services are by appointment only, which can be arranged by phoning 08454 786360 or emailing

* Putting Children First: A Handbook For Separated Parents costs £9.99.