KATIE & MIKE - child contact arrangements.
Katie and Mike had been married for eight years when they made the mutual decision to separate. They had been childhoold sweethearts but the marriage had 'run out of steam' for them and they decided to live separate lives apart.
In agreeing to separate they were determined to keep things as amicable as possible for the children, Molly (8) and Jamie (4). Katie's own parents had divoced when she was a child and she was determined that her children would not experience the pain she had gone through. It was agreed the children would have their main residence with her, but have good frequent contact with Mike, who was moving into a flat nearby.
Things started well enough with Mike and children seeing each other frequently. However, despite their good intentions, child contact arrangements started to deteriorate, ending up in a number of huge rows which left the children in floods of tears and everyone upset. A family member suggested mediation to stop matters getting any worse.
Mike made an appointment to see a mediator. Mike's view was that he didn't want to become a weekend only parent and was keen that the arrangements shouldn't be fixed in stone and written up like a timetable. His work was flexible and he often worked from home so he could pick up the children from school, or pop round to see them, as well as have them at his place. Similarly he was often on call at work so arrangements had to be flexible to facilitate this.
Following Mike's appointment the mediator contacted Katie who agreed to come in for her own appointment.
Katie's view was almost the mirror image of Mike's. She had returned to work part-time and her working hours meant she had to set up child-care swaps with other parents and make use of breakfast clubs etc. She had to cram so much into the evenings and weekends and seemed to be running round in circles. She found Mike's just turning up without notice was becoming a real problem and once he had picked up the children from school without letting her know first. The only way things could work would be to have a written rota that they all stuck to.
At the first mediation session the mediator worked with Katie and Mike to set out their aims for mediation. Not surprisingly this was the same: to have child contact arrangements that worked for everyone. The mediator explored both Katie and Mike's fears, Mike's being that he would become distanced from the children's everyday lives and Katie's that she would end up not coping. Each explained to the other what it felt like to be in their position and the mediator helped them look at ways of addressing their fears and recognising that they were not in opposition but had the same need: to make it work.
As a result of their discussion Katie and Mike agreed to put some fixed arrangements in place for the weekends, with a less rigid arrangement for the weekdays but specified as 'one of either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday' to be confirmed the previous weekend. Katie also offered to give Mike 'first refusal' when she needed a babysitter. Mike in turn agreed that he would commit to taking the children to school on Tuesday mornings and would speak to his employer about this. He also agreed to speak to his employer about having one fixed weekend a month when he was definitely not 'on call'. They agreed that Mike would speak to the children by phone on the evenings he wasn't seeing them, having first texted Katie to agree a suitable time.
Mike and Katie agreed to trial this for a couple of months and then return to mediation to review progress. At the second session a few issues and practicalities that had arisen were ironed out, but in general things had calmed down and were working quite well. As Katie commented they had ended up where they had tried to start. Both agreed that the mediator had helped them to see that they had the same aim, that they both wanted the best for the children, but that before coming to mediation they had been focusing on the negatives. Most importantly of all, the arrangements were now working for the children.