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Sharing Mum and Dad – issues surrounding Shared Parenting

Tags: shared parenting, sharing mum and dad
Content Types: Legal
Categories: After Separation

The Parent Connection team has been following and contributing to the current debate on Shared Parenting over the last year. So we were interested when a recent Dispatches programme called Sharing Mum and Dad (January 8th 2013) was shown. The programme provoked a lively debate on Twitter amongst our followers between mums, dads and legal experts and prompted a 60% increase in visits to theparentconnection.org.uk

The programme saw well-known TV presenter Tim Lovejoy, who is himself divorced with two children, try to unpick both the practicalities of parenting with your ex and the legal complexities around shared parenting.

As a reminder, if controversial Government proposals go ahead a new clause will be inserted into the Children’s Act 1989 which states

“…to presume that a child’s welfare will be furthered by the involvement of each of the child’s parents in his or her life, unless it can be shown that such involvement would not in fact further the child’s welfare.”

The Dispatches programme was an important one in that it brought the current debate that currently is only happening amongst academics, legal experts and professionals to a much wider audience. Though well intentioned, with one in three UK children experiencing family breakdown it posed the crucial question: are we doing enough? 

However, it set itself a tough challenge in trying to explore both the concept of shared parenting and also asking if current legislation is working in just thirty minutes. Moreover it only really explained shared parenting as being the ‘alternative’ to one parent (usually mum) being awarded sole responsibility by the courts and this is not what the main debate is about.

At root the problem lies in the use of the phrase ‘shared parenting’. Why? Because many parents going through separation will understandably misinterpret what this means in practice. As countries like Australia have found there is a mistaken belief (not helped by the media) that ‘shared’ means ‘equal time’, ‘my share’. This mistaken belief causes further battles for those parents who by definition of going through the courts are already struggling to resolve their difficulties.

The programme was right to quote one father who went into court saying ‘Once this law is enforced, I will get half of the child’ but didn’t go on to explore this attitude further. Splitting a child’s time 50/50 often places a huge amount of stress on their shoulders as it’s very hard to live in two homes and manage the practicalities of friends, school etc.

Often it is better for a child, especially a very young child to have their main home in one place and it is the duty of the court to do what is in the best interests of the child.

Whilst the quality of the parent child relationship obviously requires regular contact, equal access may not always be practical or in the child’s best interests despite what parents feel. Of course parents should be sharing ‘responsibility’ for their children but that requires ex partners who are often hurt and angry to look beyond their own needs and feelings and to communicate well with each other. Separated parents need to co-operate and establish a new type of relationship with each other focused on what is best for their children rather than themselves.

The effects of divorce on children can be devastating, yet in around 5% of divorce cases that go to court, one of both of the parents are unable or unwilling to take a reasonable approach.

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Comments

  • User-anonymous Anonymous Flag

    Good to hear from you, you do not say how far you have got in 'the court process'. I hope Christmas was manageable for you . Let us know how you get on.

    Fri 27, Dec 2013 at 6:34pm
  • User-anonymous Sporter Flag

    Thank you,

    I will continue to fight for I feel is best for my daughters. Although my youngest daughter has recently started asking to go to her dads quite a lot. I feel that she is picking up on the power struggle between us and has always wanted to please him.
    I fear that he is manipulating them, if they fall victim to that and become primed by his wealth then I just have to hope that the courts will see this.

    Best wishes

    Thu 26, Dec 2013 at 10:56pm
  • Pc Bern Flag

    Dear Stoner,
    Thank you for sharing your sad story. It's a reminder that it's not just fathers who sometimes have to fight for their children; mothers do too.
    It sounds like you have come a long way and it hasn't been easy for you. The love you have for your daughters has clearly made you determined to overcome all the challenges that you face.
    I wish you and your family well for the future.
    Bern

    Mon 23, Dec 2013 at 8:40am
  • User-anonymous Sporter Flag

    I am a mother of two girls aged 6 and 9. I was the victim of abuse from my extremely wealthy now ex fiancé . I became so desperately depressed and isolated that i started causing self injury to myself, eventually I tried suicide on several occasions. I was admitted to a psychiatric until for periods of time, only to go home to hostility, blame and yet more emotional abuse. I was diagnosed with Bi Polar type 2, then borderline personality disorder then PTSD, none of these labels were helpful, they just gave my partner more ammunition to bully me.
    Eventually in 2009, my partner ended the relationship. I was in hospital at the time. I was relieved in so many ways. But children services were yet to trash my world when they told me that I had to leave the family home until such time that I was well enough to have my children back. My heart literally shattered into so many pieces i thought it could never heel, the shock that my children's father who had not really had much input was going to look after them full time. I felt like I was living someone else's nightmare. I had to agree to this or else I would be taken to court. So I signed the piece of paper basically giving my children away.

    So I got out of hospital, I got a flat, I went to college and earned a diploma in science with ambitions to work in mental health. Over a period of 9 months with peaks and troughs along the way I battled through my demons of that relationship and started having supervised visits ( by ex ) then unsupervised, having them for dinner, then eventually one night per week and gradually built it up to three nights per week. Of course I thought that when the time came, that when I was well and ready that my two daughters who missed me so much would come to live with me full time , but still have a loving and enriched relationship with their father. But this was not to be. Whilst children services no longer had any concerns , my ex partner used my mental health against me every time I tried to discuss this with him. He also still had the power to emotionally abuse me because he knew how much I wanted them back so whilst the would bleat on about consistency, he wouldn't mind changing the days of contact if he needed them changed for his social life. Not only that, the four days a week the the children were with him, his mother was flown in from Germany whenever he saw fit and she would be looking after them, along with numerous baby sitters, an au pair. This in addition to booking the girls into clubs after school on his and my nights. Yet he doesn't work because he is supported by his billionaire father. So why was I being denied access? It's quite simple. Money, if the girls resided with me for more than three days of the week, then he would be liable to pay maintenance, although we were never married I know that his mother has always wanted any girlfriend he has ever had to sign a contract straying that in the event of a break up they wouldn't try and go after his assets ( properties bought by father ) so to restrict contact protects his wealth.

    I played a passive role for so long because it was less heart breaking. My eldest daughter has emotional issues of which he has sought treatment for without my opinion or consent, the same with a private dietician due to her weight gain. The list is endless, the nastiness is endless. Iv allowed this to go in purely because I assumed that's what his right. I assumed? Assumed because I got so anxious that if I questioned or challenged him that he would stop all contact...,,

    Until I found out that as their mother I have shared parental responsibility for both my girls and that he can't take them away. I found this out after spending 9 months on a stepps course to gain life coping skills. A course which was run by an OT therapist and a Dr in Psychology, she gently encouraged me week after week to find out what my legal rights were, I didn't for a whole because I was scared. Scared I would be told that I'm unfit mother with a history of mental health difficulties.
    When I did get some legal advice - that very night I slept better than I had in years, I felt weightless - because I realised that he has no more rights over the girls then I do. He's just been the ' main carer ' for longer along side paid baby sitters, live in au pairs and his mother.
    I was advised to instruct a solicitor to write to him in relation to mediation. This is all I have left to hold onto. He will take me all the way. Although camhs, my GP, my psychologist, my consultant psychiatrist and my CPN are all in agreement that my beautiful girls should be with me. I'm not unwell, he drove me to the depths of despair until I couldn't look after them. The main trigger has gone so the chances of becoming that unwell again is pretty pretty slim.

    What is also upsetting is that children services can't undo their decision and that my ex partner is so wealthy while I struggle to feed them both, with his refusal to not help because the more stress on me the better.

    I just hope mediation can help me and my girls because they themselves are a victim of brainwashing by their father. They say they hate me and want me to die. Largely he has taught them how to hate me.

    Sun 22, Dec 2013 at 6:42pm
  • Blank_av Skywalker Flag

    Hello Anon

    What I have in mind would involve mediation skills + counselling skills, and other therapeutic approaches so that the emotional side of the breakdown and the resulting conflict could be dealt with.

    The first stage would involve an assessment to gauge the level of conflict, and decide on the appropriate approach to use. If assessment indicated that resolution and agreement could be reached with mediation skills only, then that would be the starting point. But if the level of distress and conflict was very high, then the process might need to begin with a more therapeutic approach. Which might involve each side of the conflict being allocated their own counsellor for some 1 to 1 one work to be done prior to each party coming face to face to negotiate, along with their respective workers involved.

    When children are having severe difficulty coping and adjusting, it might be helpful to use a Family Therapy approach. As you are probably aware, alienation between one parent caused by the other is a common occurrence. Imo, the brief contact CAFCASS officers have with children can be very inadequate in some circumstances.

    Family breakdown constitutes a crisis, and a crisis is a change point. Using the status-quo as a reference point for future plans will nearly always work against the involvement of the main bread-winner, often being the father. Would it be fair to exclude a working mother from her child's life other than every weekend? I don't think many people would think so.

    Once any emotional blocks to progress have been dealt with, the next phase needs to be about working out an arrangement that is practicable and mindful of the child's interest while also providing as much continuity of parenting as is reasonably possible. To my way of thinking, starting from a presumption of equal contact as the ideal, and then working out what is practicable and in the interests of the child is the most logical and rational way to approach future planning.

    Both parents working is now commonplace, and many children are looked after by carers during the day, or after school. If after family breakdown a father is able to adjust his working hours so that he could look after the children for some part of the day, or after school, how can it make sense for anyone to suggest that such an adjustment to arrangements would not be in the interests of the child?

    The reality of modern family life is that not everything revolves around the best interests of children, in fact, just the opposite in many cases. The challenge after family breakdown is to make the best of an unfortunate and sad situation, not to use some notional ideal to justify keeping children away from their parents.

    What I have in mind involves a completely new model, created by bringing together and integrating the best resources and skills for the job.

    Pouring vast sums of public money into the Family Court to hear a constant flow of vexatious cases makes no sense at all, other than perhaps to those who make a living from such a travesty.

    Rarely do I agree with cuts in public funding, however, in this case, I think the Government might actually have got something right for once.

    I hope your agency, and any others providing non-judicial solutions will benefit from the change.

    Sky

    Fri 5, Apr 2013 at 10:52pm
  • User-anonymous Anonymous Flag

    Dear Sky,
    You make some interesting comments. I totally agree with your concept of a 'Care and Mediation' service. Such a service would keep parents in control of decision making about their children whilst at the same time acknowledging that parents don't act logically following relationship breakdown.
    I have the impression that you are unaware that National Family Mediation has been providing this service for over 30 years. I should add that I work for a mediation service affiliated to NFM.
    I really hope that the government's encouragement for more people to try mediation will succeed. I agree that good quality mediation is critical and it would be worrying if 'the wrong' people take up mediation. The Family Mediation Council is addressing the issue of standards. What I can say is that all NFM mediators are expected to achieve accreditation by the Legal Services Commission and on average this takes 2 years with many hours of live, supervised practice.

    Thu 4, Apr 2013 at 6:01pm
  • Blank_av Skywalker Flag

    I support the changes towards shared parenting, and also shared residence, the latter being the bone of contention for many of those who support the received wisdom that children are better placed with their mother - which is what the issue is really about.

    The system in the UK has been biased against fathers having a full role in their children’s lives for as long as the formal Court Welfare system has existed.

    This bias has very little to do with the “best interests of children”, a phrase which has been hijacked through definition by many of those working in the system, i.e. those people working in the Court Welfare system, now having been re-branded as CAFCASS.

    To fully understand the received wisdom that has caused so much damage to the relationship between fathers and their children over many years one would need to start with the historical roots of the Probation Service, and the political influences and developments of the Christian Right, and the Feminist Left, on the training of practitioners over many years.

    The Children Act was generally a well intention piece of legislation, and aimed to leave the arrangements for children to their parents following family breakdown.

    What was missed by the people contributing to the construction of the CA (mainly being members of the Court Welfare system) was the fact that separating couples are usually caught up in conflict and emotion at times of such separation, and so may be in no fit state to make rational and logical decisions about post relationship parenting. Ironically, the people who had the most experience of this conflict (Court Welfare Officers) seemed to totally miss the need for a ‘Care and Mediation Service’, which was an oversight that has led to many of the downfalls of the CA.

    Giving separating parents the power to make their own decision reflected great wisdom, missing the need for a holding structure to enable parents to make the best use of such power was an act of enormous stupidity.

    When the evidence of this oversight became so obvious that it could no longer be missed and ignored, i.e. the mounting waiting list by couples in conflict for the Family Court, a botched attempt was made to use mediation as a way for reducing escalating Family Court lists.

    I say botched, because once again, politics and the best interests of those working in the system prevailed over the best interests of children, and so solicitors suddenly became “mediators” and “family counselors”, often based on a few days training.

    One again, collective ignorance prevailed, and no one seem to recognize that mediating over a garden fence, i.e. a legal boundary issue, and mediating in circumstances of warring couples trying to make decisions over future parenting, are two very different things.

    Telling people that they should put aside their emotions and make logical and practical decisions about the future of their children is naive, and shows a lack of understanding about how people function.
    Because the wrong people were generally doing family mediation work it often failed, or the outcomes were not really accepted by the parents involved, and so further problems would crop up later on.

    However, the Government then insisted that mediation become conditional when applying for legal funding, and so mediation was forced upon parents.

    As it seems legal funding is now to be scrapped for most couples, there will no longer be such a lever available.

    Current social policy (I use the term tongue in cheek) seems to involve the Government funding various websites where people can find DIY advice on sorting out their own lives. Totally inadequate imo.

    Once again, political and financial criteria has come to prevail, and so an attempt to remove ‘the bone from the contention’ is being made by making shared residence the default position.

    What is new is that the ‘best interests of children’ have been sidelined in a different direction, in effect and because of the previous bias, in the direction of fathers.

    What is still lacking (as far as I’m aware) is a “Care and Mediation Service” capable of holding and resolving conflict between parents who are trying to make the best decisions for their children.

    IMO, Relate have the best knowledge base and skills background for developing such a 'Care and Mediation Service', which is not to exclude other agencies with similar backgrounds in the UK. BTW, I have no formal connection with Relate.

    Apart from the fact that the Government has no will to spend money on welfare for dividing families, no one wants to admit that society as a whole has got something so important as this WRONG for SO LONG!

    As someone who worked in the system for many years (oh yes, I’ve been a do-gooder too) it’s time the various practitioners in the system stood up to be counted, and instead of dishing out the received wisdom that has been drummed into them, I would suggest they take a close look at their own deeper values and motivations.

    I am sorry to see that the Couple Connection has fallen into line with the status quo, but I do think it’s a good thing for people involved with counseling and advice-giving to admit to their bias. Unfortunately, many of those working in the system do not.

    Sky

    Mon 1, Apr 2013 at 11:10am
  • User-anonymous Bruno_Ditri Flag

    More interesting debate concerning Shared Parenting and our Government's 'Children and Families Bill' can be found here:

    http://childrenandfamiliesbill.wordpress.com/

    Best regards
    Bruno D'Itri

    Fri 29, Mar 2013 at 11:43am
  • User-anonymous Bruno_Ditri Flag

    There now exists a plethora of scientific psychological and sociological evidence and research - some of which is Government-commissioned - in favour of 'Shared Parenting'.
    It plainly demonstrates the emotional, developmental and educational benefits for children of remaining in a 'meaningful' relationship with both their natural parents, post separation/ divorce:
    http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/181/April7_Kruk.pdf
    http://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/12c/
    http://www.thecustodyminefield.com/Reports/FamilyLaw-Relocation_The... (pages 20 & 21)
    http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=scientific+evidenc...
    As with most objective scientific inquiry, the evidence is never 100% conclusive. Selected research can always be found which fails to support 'Shared Parenting'.
    However, any 'meta-analysis' of all the contemporary research available would show a general consensus that children benefit from being permitted to remain in 'meaningful contact' with both their natural parents, except, of course, in cases where there is verifiable evidence of child abuse.
    Contemporary social scientists have confirmed what most major world religions have known for centuries - that children benefit from the love and guidance of both their mother and their father.
    Furthermore, much of the scientific data in favour of 'Shared Parenting' has already been exhibited as evidence at the Family Division of the High Court, and has proved to be very persuasive indeed.
    After reserving judgment in Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, the former President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, published his carefully considered judgment that family law potentially relegated the importance of maintaining a close, meaningful and on-going relationship between children and their non-resident parent, contrary to the best interests of those children:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ggN82hJshevz4fsC_bMitk8tGBClh56...
    In Re AR (A Child: Relocation) [2010] EWHC 1346, High Court judge, Sir Nicholas Mostyn J, also made reference to contemporary scientific evidence in favour of 'Shared Parenting'.
    It is vitally important to dismiss three prevalent myths concerning 'Shared Parenting':
    Firstly, 'Shared Parenting' does not necessitate a precise 50/50 division of parenting time. This would prove highly unworkable in many cases. MOST, IF NOT ALL SENSIBLE PARENTS ARE PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING THIS IMPORTANT POINT. It is entirely possible for a non-resident parent to maintain 'meaningful involvement' in the life of his or her child at a sub-50% level of parenting time. Alternate weekends, mid-week overnight stays and half of school holidays should provide ample opportunity for a child to benefit from the 'meaningful' input of its non-resident parent. Any shared parenting plan would need to be based upon the particular circumstances of the family members.
    Secondly, if there is evidence of any significant danger to the child, contact can and will be restricted by the Court. The Government's Children and Families Bill makes this perfectly clear, and I am very surprised that those who oppose 'Shared Parenting' legislation appear quite blind to this very important safe-guard. The Bill does not undermine the Paramountcy Principle of the Children Act (1989) in any way.
    Thirdly, opponents of 'Shared Parenting' legislation claim that the judiciary already operates on the basis that both parents should be meaningfully involved in their child's upbringing. If this were true, why do they object to enshrining the practice into law? They are plainly unaware of the fact that resident parents applying to remove their children overseas will, in most cases, be granted permission, due to the application of Payne v Payne (2001). Plainly, it is almost impossible for a non-resident parent to be meaningfully involved in the parenting of a child who is residing on the opposite side of the planet!
    Furthermore, many perfectly good and conscientious parents can face months or even years of exclusion from the lives of their children. Resident parents can exclude good non-resident parents simply by refusing to abide by contact orders or by maliciously lodging false or exaggerated claims of domestic violence. Proving their innocence can take many months of arduous and cripplingly expensive legal struggle, and it is hardly surprising that many of these good non-resident parents simply give up the fight.
    The law needs to protect a child's right to be parented by both its parents; it needs to encourage non-resident parents to assume their parenting responsibilities, and it needs to discourage resident parents from using obstructive tactics.
    The Government's Children and Families Bill aims to achieve these noble objectives, in the best interests of children.
    Best regards
    Bruno D'Itri

    Wed 20, Mar 2013 at 10:22pm
  • User-anonymous Anonymous Flag

    Hi Bruno
    It's interesting what you say about people who are pushing for "shared parenting" to be interpreted as 50:50. I think there is a real tendency for the media and many groups to equate the two, though not just those who are against the proposals. So what would be the way to avoid a general public assumption that, if the shared parenting legislation goes ahead, any parent has the right to 50% of their child's time?

    Wed 13, Mar 2013 at 9:15am
  • User-anonymous Bruno_Ditri Flag

    During the Dispatches programme, retired President of the Family Division, Baroness Butler-Sloss has recently expressed her strong objections to Shared Parenting legislation:

    http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/370559/No-50-50-sharing-of-children-in-new-divorce-law-says-top-judge

    There are three major flaws in the views of the Baroness.

    Firstly, she makes the erroneous and very misleading presumption that those calling for Shared Parenting legislation want a rigid 50/50 split of parenting time.

    Most reasonable voices who have campaigned for Shared Parenting (such as Families Need Fathers and The Custody Minefield) have acknowledged for years that a rigid 50/50 split of parenting time would be impractical in many cases.

    Instead, they have called for the significant and meaningful involvement of both parents, in order that the child may benefit from being properly parented by both its parents. Theirs has always been a qualitative approach.

    Of course, in order for a child to have a significant and meaningful relationship with both its parents, it will need to spend some minimum quantum of time with both parents, but this need NOT be 50%.

    Many who are vehemently against Shared Parenting legislation are finding it extremely difficult to counter the widespread and powerful scientific evidence in favour of Shared Parenting. They have commissioned a couple of academics in an effort to discredit Shared Parenting, but the evidence in favour of Shared Parenting is overwhelming. The general consensus among social scientists is that Shared Parenting is beneficial to children. There are parallels with Oil Companies who commission selected academics to try to discredit the evidence for Global Warming.

    Instead, opponents of Shared Parenting are rather desperately (and mischievously) attempting to shift both the debate and their attack upon the notion of 50/50. The Baroness succeeded in getting the Express Newspaper to headline this 50/50 notion!

    Secondly, whilst the Baroness concedes that children benefit from Shared Parenting when their parents are behaving “sensibly”, she states that the children of parents who are not behaving “sensibly” cannot benefit from Shared Parenting, as this would be harmful.

    In the very common scenario in which the court-appointed Primary Carer (usually mum) is upset and aggrieved with any aspect of the separation or divorce, and refuses (or is emotionally incapable) to behave “sensibly” and refuses to facilitate contact , the Baroness suggests that the Secondary Carer (usually dad) should NOT be involved in the parenting of the child. The Baroness appears quite unable to perceive firstly, the injustice of her argument and, secondly, the long-term damage to the child in losing one of its parents. The Baroness gives paramountcy to the wishes and feelings of the Primary Carer mother.

    Thirdly, the Baroness appears completely out of touch with the current Zeitgeist concerning 21st century parenting. She is firmly wedded to the ideology of the 1960′s and 70′s which strongly held that children needed the nurturing of their mothers and the financial support of their fathers. In no other of the Baroness’s judgments is this out-of-date ideology so stark as in the judgment of Payne v Payne (2001).

    Regards
    Bruno D’Itri

    Sun 10, Feb 2013 at 4:57pm