Sharing the Care for Your Children

There are an increasing number of families sharing the day-to-day care of their children these days. Shared care does not necessarily mean having the children with you 50% of the time. There are a variety of flexible arrangements which can work very well but do require good communication and co-operation between the parents sharing the care. Children can get very nervous about the handovers especially if there is likely to be conflict between their parents. Family Mediation can help you find ways to deal with this.

There is no set rule about how much time the children spend with each parent but we do know that those parents who fall out and fight for a 50:50 time split often struggle to make it work because they lack good communication.

Family Mediation can help you to work these issues out.

Sometimes it is possible to work out an arrangement which develops an almost ‘business-like’ relationship so that you do not need to be best friends but you have ways of communicating properly about the children and keeping conflict away from them. This might include set times for exchanging information or agreed rules about bed-times, school homework, etc so that there is consistency for the children and they know you are talking to each other. It is natural for children to play their parents off against each other when they know that you won’t be comparing notes! Once parents have managed to rebuild enough trust that they can rely on each other as parents, everyone will start to relax and flexibility will naturally become easier.

Depending on the age of your children and the commitments you have to consider, you can be as creative as you wish in determining the daily/weekly/monthly routine. Every family is different and the arrangements need to suit everyone as much as possible. In mediation, we encourage lots of creative ideas and sometimes there is opportunity to try things out and then review. It is important to keep talking about the practicalities and how the children are coping with it.

Children find it helpful to talk to their parents about any practical worries they may have, even if it seems trivial, e.g. “who will feed the rabbit at mum’s house whilst I’m at dad’s?” or “How can I make sure I have all the school books, PE Kit and homework at the right house for the following day at school?” Sometimes working out which days the children spend at which house can be based on making it as easy as possible for the child so that they are not carrying excessive luggage each day.

Other family members can be a very useful resource in helping with practical arrangements. For instance, it might be that on a certain school day, the children are collected by grandparents where they have their dinner and wait for mum/dad to pick them up after work. This kind of arrangement also helps to ensure grandparents or other family members continue to spend time with the children. Managing to keep contact with wider family can be a problem if there have been family fall outs following a separation but it is really important not to involve the children in this if possible.

Children can usually adapt to new living arrangements and seeing their parents at different times, as long as they know what is happening. For younger children, it can be helpful to keep a chart at each house so that they know where they are going to be and when they will next see the other parent. For older children, you may wish to include some of their wishes and feelings when making your arrangements. There may be things you have not thought of. Having said that, it is important not to put pressure on your children to make decisions which really should be made by their parents e.g. asking your child who they would like to live with.

All National Family Mediation providers offer an additional session(s) for children (usually involving siblings together) which runs alongside the family mediation process. This is called Direct Consultation with Children. We offer children an opportunity to express their views and wishes about the issues affecting them post separation. Parents will only be told what children wish them to hear (with the important exception to confidentiality in relation to risk of harm).

National Family Mediation (NFM) is a network of professional family mediation providers based in England and Wales that work with families affected by relational breakdown. All providers aim to help clients achieve an outcome that works best for them and their family

If you would like to get more information about mediation and/or make an appointment you can contact NFM direct on 0300 4000 636 or you can contact a NFM family mediation provider in your area.

All services also take referrals from Solicitors, the court or other helping / support agencies.

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