Mr and Mrs Jones are divorcing. They have two children aged 6 and 8. Most things are amicable, but they cannot agree on the parenting.
Dad would like to have the children every second weekend, Friday evening to Monday morning and every Wednesday. This is so the children do not have to go more than 6 nights without seeing him in a 4-1-4-1 arrangement.
Mum disagrees. She knows what a struggle it has been getting the children into a routine on a school night and does not want to do anything to disrupt that. She would like them to stay with their dad every Friday and Saturday night but be back in time for them to bath, do homework and eat on a Sunday evening. A 2-0-2-0 arrangement.
She knows Mr Jones does not get back from work until 6.30pm on a Wednesday, so would only have an hour with them before bed, which is not enough time to feed them and do their homework. It seems a lot of disruption for an hour with their dad. She knows they tend to play up more with dad and is worried he will let them stay up late and eat junk food and sweets and they will be exhausted in the morning.
The above is a real life example from mediation I conducted, although you may have realised the change of names.
Both parents said they had the children’s best interests at heart.
He said: “I don’t think it is in their best interests to go 13 nights without seeing their dad.”
She says: “You are once again, putting yourself before the children. Their schooling is too important.”
So who is right? Well herein lies the difficulty…because they both are.
There are thousands of children in the UK who stay at different parent’s houses during the week. There are equally thousands who do not. How do you know for sure it will effect their schooling and how can you prove it is where they are staying that affects their school work and not the fact the parents are divorcing, being bullied or a hundred other things?
Research concludes that it is not the divorce itself that can affect a child’s emotional well being, but how the parents interact with one another that causes harm. The ongoing dispute of this parenting matter, the arguments, the angry stares when they drop the kids off, the tension it is causing, the expense of solicitors and the ongoing stress of a court case are far more likely to cause harm to the children and thereby affect their school work, than where they sleep on a Wednesday night.
So how did we mediate an agreement?
The parents settled on trying a 3-0-3-0 arrangement. Dad had the children Friday to Monday morning every second weekend, but also left work early to take the children out for tea on the week he did not have them, so they did not have to go too long without seeing him.
During the 13 weeks of the year when they are not at school, they agreed to share the parenting 3 nights with dad and 4 with mum. Dad gave assurances that he would respect the bed times on a Sunday before school and feed them something healthy to eat. They agreed to monitor the arrangement for 6 months to see how it was going.
So was this the right answer? Did their schooling suffer as a consequence? No one can really say, but it was an answer. Getting to an agreement, whatever that agreement is, is the most important factor. If the children are always late to school on a Monday morning, tired, and disruptive, then clearly dad needs to either change the evening routine or admit he can’t cope and return them to mum late afternoon.
In a similar case I mediated several years ago, the parents could not agree and ended up with a court order that neither of them was happy with. They now want to change the order so that the children stay with their dad on a Tuesday night during the week instead of a Thursday. But guess what, they are back in mediation with a court date looming as they cannot agree to the change. Parenting, is best left to the parents and if need be, a neutral third party such as a family mediator, or one of our Divorce Experts can help you both agree a way forward if you need help.
Alistair Carter is founder of Divorce Friend, Surrey Mediation Service and Hampshire Family Mediation and has assisted over 1000 clients divorce or separate amicably. You can email him at Alistair@divorcefriend.co.uk or tweet @alistaircarter9