Parents often attend either mediation or court expressing their wish for a 50:50 shared care arrangement.
Spending 50% of their time with each parent may work for some children but often what is being sought by the adults in reality is an equality of status, involvement in decision making and the maintenance of a close bond with the child. None of these objectives require a 50:50 split of time.
The most consistent message heard from children during Child Inclusive Mediation [“CIM”] is a wish for their parents to get on, not argue and not be unkind to or about each other. This is more important to children than the precise amount of time spent with each parent.
The Nuffield Foundation Final Report on “Taking a longer view of contact” published as long ago as November 2012 highlighted the following important themes:
- Being involved in making decisions about contact was associated with a positive experience of contact
- The evidence did not support the common perception that children often resist contact primarily because their resident mothers pressurise them into doing so
- For contact to be successful it needs to be continuous
- The foundations of successful contact are laid down pre-separation and this highlights the importance of the pre-separation relationship between the child and the parent who subsequently is not the resident parent
- Structural matters (such as the frequency of contact and its format) were less important than the child’s impression of the non-resident parent’s efforts to make contact an enjoyable, child-focused experience and of their ability to demonstrate their commitment to the child.
- There was no consensus about the optimal level of contact and overnight stays did not emerge as a significant factor in explaining the child’s positive experiences of contact or the closeness of their relationship with the parent they did not live with
- Non-resident parents need to be reliable about contact yet also flexible so as to accommodate the child’s needs and wishes
What is important is to ensure that the arrangements that parents decide upon are tailored to the needs and circumstances of each individual child.
Children should, wherever possible, be consulted before arrangements about where they will live and what time they spend with the other parent are finalised. Arrangements which do not reflect the child’s views are more likely to break down. If in the Court process then parents may have access to a CAFCASS officer who can provide information about the views of the child. If parents are attempting to reach a resolution about arrangements in mediation then they may want to consider having a mediator qualified in Child Inclusive Mediation speak to their child/children.
More information about how children view their involvement within the decision-making process can be accessed through the National Charter for Child Inclusive Family Justice that has been drawn up by the Family Justice Young People’s Board.
And the “Top Tips for parents who are separated” can be accessed through the CAFCASS website or, as here, through the Family Mediation Council.