I want 50/50!
Lawyers in family law are used to hearing this refrain.
It almost exclusively comes from men post separation, seeking as near to equal time sharing arrangement of their children with their former partner as possible, but why?
The men will say it is only fair and equitable to have an equal residential arrangement and the women will say the man’s a narcissist or is only seeking 50/50 as a power/control tactic to harass her or limit his support payments or take the children away from her.
Actually all concerns may be at play, but let’s examine the underlying dynamic that is built into most of these situations:
In an intact family, more often than not, the mother is the primary care provider to the children and the father typically concerns himself more with matters of work – earning a living (even if both parents work outside the home). Between loving parents, when dad is at work, mom keeps the image of dad alive and positive in the minds of the children. Further, there are intimate reminders of dad’s place in the family. There are his shoes and coat in the front closet, his picture on the wall, his sports equipment or tools or other belongings in a space special to him.
Post separation, all that changes. The physical reminders of the father are typically removed or at least remarkably diminished and the likelihood of his former spouse keeping his image alive, at least in a positive sense, is also greatly diminished to non-existent.
Now dad has to carry the full weight for his relationship to his children himself. It will not be accomplished by reminders in the mother’s home and it will not be by proxy through her comments to the children about when dad will be home for dinner. Further and also more typically, children do tend to still spend a disproportionate amount of time residing with mother than father, post divorce. That means that as mother enters a new relationship, the father will be concerned about his place in the lives of his children next to mother’s new partner who will have a greater amount of times with his children than will he.
Many men are not well able to articulate this dynamic which is often troubling for them. This leads to a hidden depression for the current situation and anxiety about the future of their relationship with their one day adult children. Depending on other issues for the father (personality variables, power/control issues, aggressivity, substance/alcohol abuse, finances to name a few), the underlying concerns for him are clouded over by overt and at times untoward behavior. Some men really do themselves a disservice by not articulating these concerns in lieu of portraying remarkably poor behavior as misguided strategies to address their underlying desire to have a meaningful relationship with their children.
This blog post is not a treatise in favor of 50/50 time sharing of children. It is only meant for both fathers and mothers to better appreciate what may be driving a man’s behavior in the context of a custody/access dispute.
If the underlying issues can be acknowledged and some structures/strategies put in place to address those concerns, a reasonable parenting plan may be achieved. This does not mean it has to be equal by the way.
Creative thinking can look beyond the residential arrangement to include who is responsible for what extra-curricular activities to how vacations are managed.
If you are in a tug of war over the residential arrangement for your children, consider both parents’ reasonable need to have a meaningful and ongoing relationship with the children. Address behavioral concerns and get more creative with regard to who may do what with and for the children.
These issues are typically not well addressed by lawyers or courts. You will need to attend with a social worker or psychologist or child and family developmental specialist or mental health professional or mediator or parenting coordinator with expertise directly in this area of practice.
The true beneficiaries are the children.
I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.
If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.
Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.