Child Arrangements post-divorce are a challenging time for all parties involved – no more so than the children who are or at least should be, at the centre of focus for the separating families.
Too often we hear of warring ex-couples, of children ‘caught in the middle’ and of legal fees amounting into thousands. As a society, we’ve recently noticed that male suicide is high, that relationship breakdown is one of the main contributing factors, and that debt is another main contributing factor. Now we need to join the dots and remember that family breakdown and legal fees are one of the main causes of debt.
I’m not interested in preventing family breakdown – that’s not my area of expertise. And I’m not talking about family units or divorce rates, or the sanctity of marriage (or otherwise). I’m interested in preventing the problems after; in the entirely avoidable shit-fest that is legal wrangling, adversarial warring, and subsequent mental health problems. It’s hard work getting used to your own company after separation.
We have a family breakdown aftercare crisis and very few people are recognising this or doing anything about it.
One organisation in Kent, UK – Dads Unlimited, with whom I have worked, has been working on both cure and prevention with an advice & support service to help deal with problems, and a co-parenting workshop and programme to try and prevent child arrangements problems from happening in the first place.
The advice and support service includes a helpline and email helpdesk to provide any single parent (Mums or Dads) who need assistance in managing their child arrangements with their ex-partner or in navigating the complex family law system.
The Co-Parenting Success Programme is a workbook and workshop that works through awareness, perspective, communication tools, and helps to build a framework for successful co-parenting which, when taken on board, will minimise negativity and de-escalate conflict long before it can take hold. Even if only one parent from the separated couple attends, the communication tools alone can help reduce conflict and anxiety which in turn can produce a more beneficial environment in which the child or children can grow up.
People often ask what is the one simple thing that they could do to reduce conflict in separated families, and from working on the Co-Parenting Programme I would say there is no one simple trick, but to become more aware, to have greater perspective, and to understand communication will definitely have an impact and will help produce positive child arrangements which in turn will help your children to thrive in an environment that feels very alien to them.
However, there is always one challenging question which I ask of all people involved in the system – and not because I believe in one answer or another – there is no right or wrong answer, and the best solution will be different for each family. But it’s important to ask it in order to get people thinking.
Why not 50:50 shared care child arrangements for your child?
Why not 50:50 shared care? Why can’t your children spend half the time with one parent and half the time with their other parent? What are the reasons why each parent cannot contribute to equal parenting time?
The answers may be due to distance from school, work may keep one parent too far away, employers may not offer the flexibility required to accommodate collections and drop-offs to school.
Too often though, I hear that “children are better off with mum” with no explanation of why that is, or no rational explanation, just an inherent societal belief that’s based on an outdated patriarchal system of men being the main salary earners.
Yes sometimes, Dads are not suitable joint carers for their children. Yes sometimes Dads need a lot of help to step up to the mark – but no parent should be written off and that’s why a programme like Mellow Dads was important.
We’ve looked before at whether Kids or Men ruin Women’s careers, and discovered that it’s society that needs to change to allow parenting to take place whether separated or not.
There may be some very good reasons why a 50:50 shared care child arrangements cannot work in your unique situation, and with your specific constraints, but it’s important to ask. It’s important not to start from the wrong end of an assumption.
One of the (many) problems with family law negotiations is that we end up somewhere near the half-way point of two positions – one normally far more extreme than the other.
Agreeing on Child Arrangements is like negotiation 101 where on a scale of one to ten, Parent A says the answer is 1 and Parent B wants a 5. The case gets settled at 2.5 and Parent A hasn’t had their position challenged and Parent B ends up with a less than fair child arrangements.
The child or children who should be at the centre of focus are lost in a system that financially motivates Resident Parents to restrict overnight contact with their ex.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is no silver bullet. We simply need to challenge ingrained beliefs and subconscious assumptions about sex and parenting.
I challenge all separating families, all family mediators, all family law solicitors, barristers, the Magistrates, and the District Judges alike to consider it from a different start point: Why not 50:50 shared care child arrangements for your child? Tell me.