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This week will see many young children starting school for the very first time. This is an exciting time in a child’s life as they begin their journey in education; making new friends, learning new things and becoming independent. A child starting school can also be a daunting time for parents not least due to the practicalities of making sure their son or daughter has all the right uniforms, kits, shoes and in all the right lengths, colours and sizes etc. What can make this time even more challenging for parents is having to discuss with their ex-partner what this means for how much time their child will spend with each of them now that they are in full-time education.

This can often involve decisions as to whether a child should spend time with the parent whom the child does not live with during the school week whether for teatime or overnight and also how weekends should be shared to ensure both parents are able to spend quality time with the child. These conversations can be difficult, especially as they often result in both parents spending less time with the child than they had done previously before he/she started school.

How these changes to contact between a parent and child are discussed and implemented can have a significant impact upon parent relationships going forward.

Here are some of our tips on how to approach this difficult issue:

  1. Communication is key. It is important that you and your ex-partner talk to each other about how your child starting school will impact upon the time they spend with each of you and that each parent can make proposals for contact;
  2. Make joint decisions not unilateral. If a parent feels that changes to contact have been made by the other parent without consulting them, this can often cause negative feelings towards the parent making the decisions. Try where possible to agree any changes to a pattern of contact before implementing such changes.
  3.  Trial, test and talk. If you and your ex-partner have differing views on how the child should spend time with each of them during school term time it may be appropriate to trial both proposals for a short time. You can then sit down together and discuss what has worked and what hasn’t work and hopefully come to a consensus on long term arrangements.
  4. Time for reflection. Before implementing any changes, be sure to spend some time reflecting upon the impact of these changes on the child and also the other parent. Think about how you might feel if you were your ex-partner. For example, if your proposed changes mean the child has one less night each week with the other parent, think about how both the child and your ex-partner will feel about that and whether the benefit to the child is greater than the loss felt by both of them.
  5.  Don’t give up. Discussing these issues with your ex-partner may not be easy and may result in disagreement. However, rather than throwing the towel in at the prospect of coming to a mutual decision, keep persevering. The reward that you will each reap by being able to make these decisions together and co-parent will set you up for the future, especially as other potential issues may crop up. If you feel that you have completely exhausted all direct discussions, then call upon professionals who may be able to assist.

Mediation can help separated couples come to a consensus on issues such as how much time a child will spend with each parent. It involves both parents sitting, often in the same room, with a qualified family mediator who is there to facilitate discussions between the parents and encourage agreement where possible. The mediator will help you to identify the key issues that need to be addressed within mediation and look to explore those issues with both parents and help you to consider potential options and solutions. Whilst the mediator sets the agenda and managers the process, the decisions and the control remains with the parents themselves. You do not pass your decision making powers over to the mediator, as would be the case in say arbitration or the Court process. If a consensus is reached within mediation, the mediator will prepare a document called a memorandum of understanding setting out the proposals reached between the parents, which can then form a parenting plan to help the parents to successful co-parent in the future.

At Consilia Mediation, our qualified mediators are also family solicitors and have extensive knowledge and experience dealing with the full spectrum of family law issues. If you would like to find out more about family mediation, please contact us on 0113 322 9222 or