With the vast amounts of snow covering the country over the last week, and with Bath becoming a very picturesque winter wonderland, I finally got round to watching some of the programmes languishing on my television recordings. One of these was Channel 4’s Sharing Mum and Dad. It was hosted by Tim Lovejoy, who will be familiar to viewers of Sunday Brunch and Soccer AM, himself a divorced father of two. Tim has managed to reach an agreement with his ex-partner where they share the care of their daughters. Tim spoke to a number of experts in the area, as well as to a family who have a 50:50 arrangement whereby the daughter spends one week with her mother, then the next with her father.
The Dispatches programme is still available to watch at the time of writing this post, and is well worth watching. The statistics quoted by the programme refer to one in three children growing up in families with separated parents. Carolyn Hamilton, from the Coram Children’s Legal Centre, commented that 10% of children end up being the subject of Court disputes. If these figures are accurate, it is clear that a massive number of children are ending up caught up in the middle of the fallout following the breakdown of a relationship. Professor Hamilton emphasised that it is the duty of the Court to do what is best for the child, and pointed out that where parents are being unreasonable it is the child who suffers. The difficulty here is that when caught up in the devastating effects of a relationship breakdown, people rarely view themselves as being unreasonable.
Tim interviewed the eminent retired family judge Baroness Butler-Sloss and asked her about the proposed changes in legislation in this area. You can read my earlier post about these proposals here. Baroness Butler-Sloss has her criticisms of the proposals, and commented that “I think all parents should be sharing their children, but that requires parents to be sensible, to cooperate and to look for what is best for the children. The problem with shared parenting is the perception that parents have as to what it means.”
Tim also spoke to Nikki Tapper, a clinical child psychologist. She queried the widely held view that stability for a child required them to have just one home. She said that stability doesn’t have to mean just being in one place, but that it necessitates consistency for the child, and required them to have a framework for their living arrangements that they could understand.
Although I was impressed with the way that the programme tackled the issues, I was disappointed to see that whilst Court proceedings were referred to a number of times, alternative methods of resolving disputes were not really addressed. The benefit and availability of dispute resolution options such as mediation and collaborative law were not discussed, which sadly means a valuable opportunity to increase awareness of these excellent options was missed. Even where an agreement cannot be reached early on between parents directly, it does not mean that you have to turn to the Court to find a solution. Mediation and collaborative law are extremely good ways of resolving disputes, and have particular benefits where children are involved.
Perhaps the final word should go to the mother of the girl who spends one week with each parent. She said that the way to make it work is to always focus on the child, and to put your differences to one side.
You can follow the debate about this on twitter, using the address @C4SharingMumDad and with #sharingmumdad
Image by Bengt Nyman under a Creative Commons Licence