Spending time with my child: What to expect
We answer your questions on the thorny issue of contact arrangements. What is reasonable and what is realistic to expect when you separate?
Q: Will contact benefit my child?
A: Research shows that those children who adjust best to life after family separation are those that have the ongoing input of both parents. Children value contact with both parents even where that is small or imperfect. Research has also show that children who are well-bonded and loved by involved fathers, tend to have less behavioural problems, and are somewhat inoculated against alcohol and drug abuse. Yet when fathers are less engaged, children are more likely to drop out of school earlier, and to exhibit more problems in behaviour and substance abuse
Q: Is agreeing contact straightforward?
A: Many parents find themselves in quite serious conflict over the amount of time that their children will spend with each of them. Sometimes it’s because one parent feels that they aren’t getting enough time with their child. Other times it’s because one parent feels that the other is not doing enough of the day-to-day caring. The important thing is to talk, there are a number of family mediation services which can help you reach agreement. We have put together this article Reaching agreement
Q: Where do I start?
A: What is important when you come to agree patterns of care and contact is that you put the needs of your child above your own. Start as soon as possible and keep contact consistent, children benefit from a routine and the certainty of knowing when they will see their parents.The division of parenting time must also never become a weapon with which to wield power over the other parent.
Q: What is a reasonable amount of contact time?
A: Each case is different. There is no one type of contact that is better than another for all situations. Primarily it is what is needed by your child, your needs are secondary. You do need to think about how much hands-on care you can realistically provide, how much you have provided in the past and wider issues such as work commitments, getting your child to school etc.
Q: What happens if we can’t agree?
A: If you find yourself getting into conflict around agreeing contact, you may need to get outside help. Trained mediators may be able to offer a way forward. If things reach a point where no progress can be made, you may need to turn to the family courts for help.
Q: Is the law biased in favour of mothers?
A: The law itself favours neither mothers nor fathers. When the courts come to decide any matter concerning a child’s upbringing, its paramount consideration is the welfare of the child.
Increasingly, it is recognised that fathers have a significant role to play in their children’s lives after separation, but remember that judges may have similar prejudices and attitudes towards mothers and fathers' caring abilities to those of the general population.
Q: What should I do if my child’s mum is concerned about my caring abilities?
A: Mums can become anxious about a father's ability to provide day-to-day care, especially if they have not looked after the children for extended periods of time on their own. Very often, mothers and fathers prioritise different aspects of caring.
It can be a sensible idea to try and agree a few basic ground rules. This might include bed times, types of food to be eaten, how often clothes may be worn before they are to be washed etc.
Q: Once contact is agreed, is it set in stone?
A: The very best child arrangements are those that are regular, consistent but flexible. They also need to be age appropriate. A child who is five may like to stay with you every Saturday night.
By the time that child is 12, they may need the flexibility to be able to go to sleep-overs. Being able to talk to your child’s mum on an ongoing basis not only helps children but models co-operative behaviour.
Q: What happens if I can’t cope?
A: If you begin to struggle, don’t panic. Talk to other fathers, look at other articles on Dad.info, get a book out of the library, look to your family for some emergency support.
If you really find that you can’t cope, don’t be afraid to admit it. Be up front and find a new contact pattern that will work. Always remember that it is quality that counts not quantity.
About the author
Clare Kirby qualified as a lawyer in 1983 and worked for several years in industry. She founded Kirby & Co in 1997. As a member of Resolution and an advanced member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel she is experienced and respected in the field of family law. Trained as a collaborative lawyer, Clare offers clients a range of options - traditional, and collaborative law - to best meet the needs of the individual clients.
Updated: September 2017