An absent father of a six year old child wrote to me recently – “I want to be involved as much as possible in my son’s life. I’m happy to provide what support to his Mum as I’m able within the constraints imposed by my work and the realities of living somewhere different”
But as the “every other weekend and a two week summer holiday contact” formula with his son was what he feared would be his lot, his “involvement as much as possible” was translated into a demand that his son do spend 50% of his time with him. A demand driven by emotion – and not by what was either practical or necessarily best for anyone, including the son.
The reality is that only a relatively small number of parents can manage an equal time arrangement. It requires proximity to and a co-parenting relationship with the other parent, a flexible work schedule, and two households able to accommodate children.
In my practice as a family and divorce solicitor in Bath and Bristol, in contrast to the disappearing parent (frequently the father) of yesteryear, I am seeing an increasing number of separated and divorced fathers wanting to spend more time with their children. An encouraging sign as the majority of children consistently report in studies that they too would like more involvement from their non-resident parent (again frequently the father).
But, is it not the “Quality” rather than the “Quantity” that the involvement should be about?
As research has found, how often fathers see children is less important than what fathers do when they are with their children. Paul Amato & Joan Gilbreth found in “Non-resident Fathers and Children’s Wellbeing: a Meta-analysis” that authoritative parenting and emotional closeness made more of a difference.
Authoritative parenting includes: helping with homework, talking about problems, providing emotional support to children, praising children’s accomplishments and disciplining their misbehaviour.
Family Courts in England & Wales are busy determining quantity of contact – when and where children do spend time with their non-resident parent – without often being able to tackle how the contact time should be spent. By focusing on the interests of the whole family and having the opportunity to involve Child Specialists and Family Consultants/Divorce Coaches, out of court dispute resolution processes like Family Mediation and Collaborative Law do help separating and divorcing parents shape contact schedules that address both the quantity and the quality of contact.
A divorced parent, who after working through a Collaborative Law process recently wrote the following to me – “The kids have settled into the new routine of life. Overall they seem happy and well adjusted. My ex and I remain flexible with our childcare arrangements”.
It maybe aspirational to think that disputes over the contact between a non-resident parent and child will always be resolved this well. However, if more divorcing parents could be encouraged to concentrate on continuing to be authoritative and loving parents and less on fighting each other over time slots with their children, then perhaps they would achieve the result they want and end up being more involved in their children’s lives.