Shared Parenting – Can you make it work?

Many reading this will know that shared parenting can be difficult! we turned to Lisa Smith from Woolley & Co to set out some helpful tips… 

…without exception all my clients, however bitter the break-up and however hostile they might feel towards their partner, are worried about the effect on the children of divorce or separation. 

Ultimately the family Courts will make decisions in the interest of the children if parties are unable to agree but it is always better for children to see that their parents have been able to work things out between them by putting the children first.  

Easier said than done perhaps when a relationship breaks down and emotions are high but it is possible to share the care of your children, it is not always easy however and there are a few key points to keep in mind: 

 1. TRY TO REMEMBER that you are still both parents of the children and that the children need you both. “What is best for the children in this situation” might be a useful guide to remember when perhaps tempted to respond to a partner who might be doing everything they can to annoy you!

2. TALK to each other and especially to your children. If you are working with a family lawyer they’ll be able to help you find specialist support for example from counsellors able to help with the impact of the relationship breakdown on your children. But your lawyer will have had years of experience in just this very situation and can often be very helpful with suggestions. 

3. DIARY. Keep a diary which you and your partner can access (maybe keep it on-line?) where agreed dates for children being places can be kept and also who collects, when, how, where are they going and how to contact in emergency are all stored. This will really help keep avoidable problems to a minimum. 

4. ACCEPT that there will be problems and misunderstandings but try to keep the “end goal” in sight of having the children grow up with a solid foundation of parents who care about them and who they can see can face and resolve problems in life.

5. DON’T go to Court unless you have to. It is expensive and tends to be a very blunt instrument for dealing with these issues. Obviously we’d all be in Court immediately in the cases where our children need protection but in most cases discussion and restrained negotiation are best. And don’t use the children as pawns, they do realise later and react against it.

One of the things I suggest to my clients involved in disputes relating to children, or those in the early stages of separating is that they prepare a Parenting Agreement setting out the arrangements and both parties sign it.  This would include as much detail as the parties wish in order to avoid potential disputes in the future and also draft in a ‘Statement of Respect’ tailored to the situation.

Sample Statement of Respect

Neither party will denigrate or demean the character or behaviour of the other in the presence of the children, but will refer to the other parent with respect.

1. We will share in both the joys and the burdens of raising our children as we share in the decision making processes related to their health, education, religious training, recreational activities, and general well being.

2. Although there may be disagreements between us, we will not permit them to be inflicted upon our children. We acknowledge that we are both good people who are simply unable to live together. We believe that every child should have in his or her mind an image of two good parents, and we will work toward that end.

3. We will leave our children free to love and respect both of us. We will not discuss the shortcomings of the other parent in front of the children, nor permit others to do so.

4. We will work toward maintaining a friendly relationship and will try to be considerate of each other’s feelings and concerns.

5. We will not use our time with our children as an excuse to continue arguments between us.

6. When either of us is with our children, we will be discreet if we are including others with whom we may be involved.

7. We will make the period of time with our children a normal experience. Every time we are together does not have to be “Disneyland” for them.

8. In planning time with the children, especially as they become older, we will be sure to consider their needs and wishes.

9. We will make the time with our children as pleasant as possible by showing our interest in their activities and avoiding questions regarding the activities of the other parent. Also, we will not make promises to them unless we know that we can keep them.

10. Each parent will notify the other as soon as possible if he or she is unable to keep the agreed upon schedule, as failure to give notice is unfair to the other parent and the children.

11. Neither parent will schedule activities which conflict with the other parent’s custody, however, if one parent has plans for the children that are conflicting, and these plans are in the best interests of the children, we will be adult, and arrive at an agreeable resolution.

12. The parent with whom the children have’ just been living will prepare the children both physically and emotionally for spending time with the other parent, and have them available at the time agreed upon.

13. We will acknowledge and respect any differences we have in our parenting techniques and attempt to reconcile those differences, as we work together for the best interests of our child.

It might seen a little ‘touchy feely’ but actually setting out your intention to co-operate and be flexible for the sake of the children in writing, and both signing it, can be a very useful document to refer to if and when issues arise.  If nothing else re-reading it might serve to give both parties a few moments ‘time out’ to reflect and thus take some of the heat out of the conflicts that can inevitably arise when co-parenting from different homes.

Written by Lisa Smith, divorce lawyer with Woolley & Co, Solicitors based in Bedford. Lisa works with many separating parents, priding herself on providing practical advice based on a thorough understanding of a client’s situation. For more details visit www.family-lawfirm.co.uk.

 

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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5 Responses to Shared Parenting – Can you make it work?

  1. Bruno D'Itri says:

    An open letter to Tim Loughton MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, 24 June 2012:

    The Government now recognises that the paramount interests of a child are served by facilitating and safeguarding its close and meaningful relationship with both its parents, post separation/divorce. In reaching this conclusion, the Government has taken into full and careful account the wishes of its electorate, the realities of 21st century family life, and a plethora of irrefragable psychological and sociological evidence and research, collated over the last decade or so, which plainly demonstrates the emotional, developmental and educational benefits for those children who are permitted to enjoy a shared parenting regime. In short, ‘paramount interests’ equates to ‘shared parenting’ (except, of course, in cases where there is a proven risk of harm).

    The will of our elected Government is clear. It considers that the Children Act (1989) – as well, perhaps, as some judge-made laws which followed in its wake – does not serve the paramount interests of the child in its current form and therefore requires modification and improvement.

    However, regardless of whatever modification the Government makes to the CA, it will be the eventual application of the law by the judiciary which will determine whether or not the will of the Government is enacted in practice.

    What, then, is the best way to ensure that the will of the Government is enacted in practice by the judiciary? In my view, the Government should tap unashamedly into the vast legal knowledge and experience of Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division, and of his colleagues in the Family Division of the High Court. The Government should, I would suggest, posit the following very specific question to Sir Nicholas: “In order for the will of the Government to be enacted in practice, what modification to the CA can you suggest?”

    Of course, it may well be the case that the judiciary actually opposes the proposed change! Sir Nicholas has, in the past, voiced his personal objections to a number of Government proposals. Nevertheless, it is imperative that Sir Nicholas provides a comprehensive and constructive reply to the specific question above, rather than simply expressing his personal opinion as to whether or not the CA should be modified in order to promote Shared Parenting. Plainly, it is not for the judiciary to make that decision. That legislative power is for our democratically-elected Government. The duty of the judiciary, I would venture to suggest, is to apply the will of our elected Government – to obey Government – to the best of its ability. For it to do otherwise, either proactively or by omission, would be very wrong.

    Sir Nicholas is fully aware of the scientific evidence in favour of shared parenting. He is fully aware of the benefits to a child of maintaining a close and meaningful relationship with both its parents. We know this because, in the case of Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, Sir Nicholas was presented with a plethora of contemporary scientific evidence and research, which demonstrated, beyond all reasonable doubt, the veritable benefits for children of maintaining a close and meaningful relationship with both their parents.

    To his credit, Sir Nicholas reserved judgment in Re D and gave himself three weeks in which to carefully read and digest this very extensive scientific evidence, running to several hundred pages.

    To his further credit, in his eventual written judgement Sir Nicholas accepted the argument put forward by the litigant-in-person that current family law potentially relegates the harm done to children by giving insufficient weight to the importance of maintaining a close and meaningful relationship between children and both their parents.

    In summary, the judiciary is very aware of the serious harm which can be inflicted upon children when they are denied the right to maintain an on-going, close and meaningful relationship with both their parents.

    However, as was shown in Re D, the judiciary was hand-tied and constrained to apply current law. It could not, itself, introduce the new legal principle of Shared Parenting into the CA. Sir Nicholas has made it very clear that only Parliament has the power to do so.

    Those of us who have lost meaningful contact with our children due to current family law – and who live, day by day, in the soul-destroying knowledge that, according to the science, our children’s futures will be significantly blighted as a direct consequence – very much welcome our Government’s initiative on Shared Parenting.

    However, crucially, the Government should do all that it can to ensure that any modification to the CA will be robust enough to be effective in practice. The best person who can advise the Government on this specific point is Sir Nicholas Wall.

    I respectfully request that you advise me whether or not the Government will be seeking the input of Sir Nicholas on this very specific point.

    Yours Sincerely
    Bruno D’Itri

  2. Bruno D'Itri says:

    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

  3. Bruno Ditri says:

    In continuation of the last post,

    The Baroness claims:

    “I’ve heard one father who went into court saying, ‘Once this law is enforced, I will get half of the child”.

    Is she claiming to have heard this father in a case over which she was presiding? It seems so.

    However, the Baroness retired from the Bench many years ago, and well before the Shared Parenting Bill was aired.

    How, then. was she able to hear this father’s comments on the Shared Parenting Bill?

    In fairness, she may have intended to say that she had heard of the father’s comments from a third party, or that she had heard the father as he went into a court room whilst she was hanging around outside it.

    Of greater interest is the Baroness’s undying faith in the belief that “a child has to live in one place”.

    But is that really so?

    Should we start worrying about middle-class children who spend months each year living in their parents’ second holiday home? And should we be closing down their boarding schools?

    Should we remove all children from divorced parents who have happily agreed upon a Shared Parenting routine?

    There are many children who benefit from having one bedroom at their mum’s and a second bedroom at their dad’s, and who positively thrive from having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents.

    Confusingly, the Baroness declares that Shared Parenting is fine when parents are behaving ‘sensibly’. How does she reconcile this with her other declaration that a ‘child has to live in one place’???

    The Baroness comes across as a confused old lady with very old-fashioned and ill-conceived ideas.

    I rather think the anti-Shared Parenting lobby shoots itself in the foot whenever it wheels her out.

    Bruno D’Itri

  4. Bruno Ditri says:

    The Children Act of 1989 required the judiciary to serve the paramount interests of the child.

    Surely no one can disagree with this fundamental principle.

    The problem is that our senior judiciary has opted to interpret this paramountcy principle by adopting out-of-date suppositions which hark back to the 1960′s and 70′s. It has done so because of its rigid adherence to the system of ‘legal precedent’.

    Above all, a child needs the love and nurturing of its mother and the financial support of its father. Women are the emotionally weaker sex: if their wishes are thwarted by the court, their ability to parent their child will be adversely affected. A child can be raised quite satisfactorily without the nurturing of its father. A father may be permitted to share in the parenting of his child, but only if the mother is in agreement. If she is not in agreement, the father should not be involved in the parenting because this would upset the mother, and the resulting animosity would be harmful to the child. If a mother is found to have lodged false or exaggerated accusations of physical or emotional violence against a father, she should not be punished because this would harm her child.

    If these are the suppositions written into decades of legal precedent and indelibly ingrained in the minds of the senior judiciary – such as Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Justice Thorpe and Sir Nicholas Wall – then it is quite obvious that these judges will opt to interpret the Paramountcy Principle of the CA1989 by adopting those suppositions.

    A perfect example is Payne v Payne (2001). Butler-Sloss and Thorpe decided that the paramount interests of a child would best be served by ensuring that the child’s mother should not be upset by a refusal of her application to remove the child overseas. The unfortunate consequence – that the child would lose its meaningful relationship with its father – was not as important a factor as ensuring the happiness of the mother. In Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, Nicholas Wall refused to permit any challenge to the ideology of Payne v Payne, despite having being presented with a plethora of powerful scientific evidence in favour of shared parenting. Wall relegated the importance of that evidence.

    Our senior judiciary has utterly misjudged the best interests of the child by remaining stubbornly wedded to an out-of-date ideology of parenthood.

    The forthcoming amendment to the CA1989 – inserting a presumption of shared parenting – will hopefully rectify that serious judicial error.

    Regards,
    Bruno D’Itri

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