Fierce controversy has characterised discussions this month of whether separated fathers should have the right to equal time with their children. In November 2011, the Family Justice Review rejected the idea – but by February 2012, children's Minister Tim Loughton had stated it was important that decent and loving fathers are not pushed out of their children's lives.
The latest news from Government is that when disputes are settled in court, it will promise to find ways to ensure that every father has a right to access to their children, unless he poses a safety or welfare risk. An extra £10 million will be available to parents for mediation to reduce the number of children’s contact cases going to court - because if both parents are to maintain meaningful relationships with their children cooperation is key, and acrimonious court proceedings don’t help.
However, the fundamental discussion should be in every case what the children need: whether it is equal time with both parents, some sort of sharing arrangement, the right to contact with one parent or no contact at all.
These pointers indicate when a shared, although not necessarily equal , pattern of care might work - suitability may well depend on whether each parents answers yes or no to the questions:
- Can you communicate and negotiate fairly well about the children?
- Do you basically respect your ex as a parent despite your relationship disappointments and personal differences?
- Can you put your personal disagreements and conflicts to one side and focus on what the children need in a given situation?
- Is there a compromise and give-and-take when there are disagreements?
- Can you share control and respect the autonomy of the other parent’s household?
- Are your fundamental child-rearing values and practicalities similar?
- Can you tolerate your differences without seeing them as detrimental to the children, and can you distinguish between the important and unimportant differences?
- Do you value what the other parent has to offer your child?
- Are you willing to tolerate the personal inconvenience and extra work in coordinating schedules?
- Is your child able to handle transitions?
- Whilst you were together were the child-rearing tasks shared (not necessarily equally)? If not, is there a commitment to increase sharing now?
The length of this list shows you just how important cooperation is. If you're prepared to begin negotiating with your ex-partner regarding the care of your children, then it’s time to consider making an appointment for mediation.
Frances Place, Partner at Progressive Mediation