Mum’s house, dad’s house

Splitting up is a huge, life-changing decision if you do not have children with your partner. If you do, well, I probably don’t need to tell you. But how do you agree where they live and how their time is divided?

Assuming neither parent is a danger to the child, the best outcome is that both parents are involved in the children’s lives and agree on the arrangements. This may be for one parent to be the primary carer, with the other looking after them on agreed days each week, or for both parents to have equal time with the children.

Arrangements can be complicated, especially when care is shared. You could agree to alternate weeks or half a week each, with alternate weekends. There will be some impact on the children, having to move from house to house, but the idea of shared parenting seems to work for both parties and allows both parents time to begin to find their own lives as well.

What happens if you just can’t agree? It is fair to say that you are likely to need to compromise. One route is to go to a mediator, who can sit in a room with you both and help you to discuss the options. They will not be able to tell you what to do, but the legal system now states that you must have seen a mediator before taking family disputes to court.

The one thing you don’t want to do is use preventing your ex access to their children to get back at them. The children will see this happening and will not thank you for it in the long term.

If the arrangements for the children need to be settled by a court, the children’s own views may be considered, depending on their ages. In 2017, we saw one judge write to the children of the marriage to explain why he hadn’t done what the children had wanted.

I understand that courts prefer to award joint parenting arrangements. However, only around one fifth of arrangements are joint, around the same where the father is the primary carer and in over half of all cases the mum has the primary responsibility for child care.

It is difficult to think of your children not being with you for a night, two nights or three nights each week. However, this time does provide you with the opportunity to do other things. You could join a gym, start singing in a choir or even take that first step onto the dating circuit.

We all like to think that we always put our children first. When we separate, it is even more important to keep their needs at the forefront of our minds.

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