Not enough contact?

Question

Can I firstly thank you for your brilliant website. There seems to be a dearth of good, accessible, easy to understand, information about children family law and its processes on the internet.

My daughter is now 4 and has recently started school. Her mother and I split up when she was only 6 months old. I initially discussed with her mum, that we both have shared residence and an equal amount of time with our daughter. However, although we lived as a family at my flat before we split, she was adamant at the time, that she would only agree to contact on Mondays and Thursdays - when she could not look after her - as she worked part time. Also, in her opinion, our daughter was too young to be away from her overnight.

We initially went to mediation. From the outset I made it clear I wanted to be a hands on dad and wanted our daughter to have a home with me. I did not want my role in her life to be marginalized or be a part time dad on the periphery of her life. From the time of the split I saw my daughter on Monday's, Thursday's and some weekends. It was only when she took legal advice did she eventually agree to our daughter staying overnight with me, that was when our daughter was 18 months.

That was initially every other Thursday. When she was two she agreed to every Thursday.

It has allowed us to build a solid foundation for our daughter on a cooperative basis. We are both fully committed to our daughter and have a good understanding, attending medical appointments together, spending time together with her on Birthdays, Christmas Eve & Day, and making joint decisions about nursery and school etc... 

In addition to all of this, since our daughter started school in September I have also taken our daughter to school every morning except Monday's when her grandparents take her - as she usually stays there on a Sunday.

I also pick her up after school on a Monday till 6.30. Thursday she stays over night with me (as she did when she attended nursery school.) In addition I see her Three Saturdays a month. One of which she stays overnight and one we jointly take her on a day out.

Mum picks her up from mine on a Monday at 6.30pm. However, I have recently mentioned to her mum. I would like her to stay with me on a Monday night. As I have always maintained as she gets older, I'd like her to spend more nights with me. I feel it would be better for her as I take her to school on a Tuesday anyway and it would be less disruptive (a car journey for another half an hour to go back to her mums to effectively go straight to bed.)

We have reached an impasse, her mum disagrees and has now said that she wants to put her in pre-school and will never agree to two school nights a week. I have suggested mediation, but she has said she's to busy (she is currently studying for a new career.) She has blamed me for her having taking a day off last week due her being stressed out at the thought of our daughter spending any less time with her. She has said as a result of that, it will now affect her overall grades.

She is a great mum... she also acknowledges I'm a "good father". She does have a niggle about me being 5-10 minutes late when she collects our daughter, although it has only just been mentioned. I feel given the fact she regularly spends a Sunday night with Grandparents that staying with me two school nights a week isn't excessive. I am self-employed so I can tailor my working hours to suit my daughter needs.

With prior agreement with her grandmother on one occasion I arranged that she pick our daughter up on a Monday, as I had to travel to London for business and she took her to school in the mornings - while I was away for two nights. I could have got someone from my family to take her on my behalf, but as they live closer it made more sense. It was very last minute and our daughters Mum has cast this up recently and also brought up an occasion in 2010, when I was sick and didn't pick our daughter up in the morning and was unable to contact her until later in the day. I feel this will be held against me in court. 

I am reluctant for the court to intervene and I'm torn on the matter. As it would be interpreted as personal by her mum and very much "me taking her to court". She has also recently stated that in her opinion "she makes the decisions and if I don't like it take me to court".  Also, I feel that court proceedings would undermine the solid foundation we have built for our daughter. She has also intimated she would give up the course she is on rather than spend any less time with our daughter and agree to her spending two school nights with me.

The last thing I want is things to turn sour between us and me become her nemesis in her eyes. When all I'm suggesting is that my daughter spends more nights with me. I buy her clothes, coats, shoes, school uniform etc... I feel a proposal by her to me of weekend stays every fortnight is a lack of acknowledgement of my role in our daughter’s life. We both have partners and my daughter has a good relationship with mine and I'm wondering if that has anything to do it.

How is a judge likely to view all of this.....? Would a judge feel that the time my daughter currently spends with me is adequate or excessive and potentially reduce it? Also if "Shared residence" and "Contact" terminology is going to be omitted in the new Children and Families Bill, how is the change in the law likely to affect my request to continue to take our daughter to school. Can the Child Arrangement order be that detailed to include something like this? I'm aware that there will be an acknowledgement that both parents involvement in the lives of their Children will further the welfare. Would a judge agree that my daughter spending time with me in the mornings, re-capping on homework for instance, is better for her than going to pre-school at 8am? Or would I have to apply for a prohibitive steps or specific issue order in this regard.

Also if it does go to court, is photograph, video / phone footage on a DVD-R admissible to accompany my statement? Can this be shown to a judge in court to show the close bond I have with my daughter as I have lots going back from when she was born?

Answer

This is a long question but I have not edited it down much because I suspect it reflects a similar situation for many parents who have contact with their children.

It also demonstrates the limits of the advice a lawyer can give, which I will set out below. I understand your misgivings completely – rock the boat and risk getting less contact with your daughter or alternatively put up with a situation you do not feel adequately reflects your role in your daughter’s life?

As I understand it the current contact arrangements are as follows:

  • Every Thursday overnight;
  • Every Monday after school until 6:30 pm;
  • One Saturday a month, just you and your daughter;
  • One Saturday a month, shared with mum; and
  • One Saturday a month overnight.

I understand that you also take your daughter to school most mornings.

It seems you are able to reach agreement over ‘special days’ such as Christmas etc. You do not mention what happens during the school holidays, a subject to which I will return below.

On what you have told me, there does not appear to be any substantial criticism of you as a father or your ability to care for your daughter. The contact you are having at the moment demonstrates that there can be no ‘in principle’ argument to you spending more time with your daughter based on any alleged inadequacies as a father. A Court would not, frankly, be the slightest bit interested in complaints about being a few minutes late or things that happened years ago.

It is not unusual for the resident parent (the parent the child spends most time with) to feel strong emotions when it is suggested that their child spends more time away from them. Such emotions are more about the adult needs than what is best for the child but they can be a powerful factor. It is often difficult to accept that a child is the product of two people and that the child (if both parents are equally capable of caring for the child) is entitled to have both parents involved in that child’s life for substantial periods of time. I detect a degree of emotional blackmail in statements about giving up the course etc. I do not know your daughter’s mum, but I have experience of many such threats (from mums and dads) which do not come to fruition. They often turn out to be a method of trying to exert some control. Remember,
if it is your daughter’s best interests to spend more time with her father, then you are not responsible for an unreasonable or irrational reaction to that suggestion.

If you were my client and on the basis that you are an unimpeachable father (i.e. that there are no
real reasons why you could not care for your daughter for longer periods of time) then I would expect to persuade a court that she should be spending more time with you. She is 4 years old, now goes to school, is used to having overnight contact with you and you appear, on what you have said, to have been patient and reasonable when it comes to your ambitions where contact is concerned.

My experience is that Courts do not generally like children to-ing and fro-ing between parents during the school week as it may be disruptive to school life. However this seems to work on a Thursday night so it is certainly reasonable that it will work for another night in a week, especially given that she spends time with you on Monday evenings. Your argument that on Mondays she only goes home to her mum to go to bed is a strong one.

Assuming what you have said is correct, I see no reason why your daughter should not also be spending more time with you at weekends. Why not one weekend a month where she gets a whole weekend with her dad, so that you can go places together etc?

I am not clear what happens during holidays? Do you take your daughter on holiday? Does she spend additional time with you during the school holidays? Many equally capable parents share school holidays equally or at least have set periods where they can take their children away for one or two weeks on holiday. If this is not the case at the moment, you appear to have a good argument for making it the case.

I think you can see from what I am saying that I think, on what you have told me, that your chances of persuading a Court that your daughter should spend more time with you are good. I think it unlikely that a court would reduce your daughter’s time with you.

That is not to say I think you should rush off to court. Your suggestion of
mediation is a good one. It might be a good idea to discuss with mum the fact that mediation is cheaper and quicker than going to court (which can often take many months and will certainly involve more disruption than attending mediation). Faced with the choice of mediation or court, sensible people choose mediation and only go to court if that does not lead to an agreement.

I cannot give much advice about your fears of ‘rocking the boat’. I do not know your daughter’s mother, only you can make that decision but statements like . Certainly a resident parent can make things difficult for the non-resident parent if they choose to. However, it may be that your daughter’s mother has used direct and implied threats to make sure you do not ‘push it’. Sometimes showing someone that you are determined to pursue a more equitable arrangement is the best way to put an end to such tactics. Certainly, if true, comments along the lines of ‘my way or the high way’ will not impress the court. It might also be a good idea to suggest that she gets some advice. I note that mum only allowed overnight after taking advice - I suspect she was told what the likely outcome of any court case would be.

The ‘Child Arrangement Order’ provisions will, frankly, make very little difference. Have a look at my post on the new provisions
here. The orders will have the same effect just with different names. The court will still be able to make provision for taking to school etc. The core of any Court’s decision will still be the child’s welfare. A court will nearly always favour a child being with a parent rather than a relative or professional carer (eg pre-school or babysitter) providing the parents is available, reliable and committed.

The evidence you suggest (photos etc) are perfectly admissible however giving the court with too many will ensure that the judge does not look at them! In the right circumstances they can make a marginal difference. I would not worry too much. The fact that you see you daughter so regularly probably speaks for itself as to your commitment. If mum really had any concerns about your relationship with your daughter, you would not be taking her to school every morning etc. It may be a good idea to say in a statement what you have (how many and over what period of time, what they show etc.) and just to exhibit a few examples.

Have a look at my post on
writing statements to help you think about what you would want to say to the court.

Family cases are often about the detail. I want to stress that the above response is only general advice and I cannot make predictions as I only have your side of things. If in doubt, I would always advise going to see a family law professional. Have a look at my pages on
getting a lawyer and controlling costs if you are thinking of going to court with a lawyer.








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