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I want 50/50!

May 1, 2014

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

(905) 628-4847

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.

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  1. janet permalink

    If a man post divorce wants to be in his or her child’s life he stays in the same town, pays child support if the child lives with mom and then when and if mom remarries does not swoop in and try to be what he never was to begin with out of jealousy of a new man in the child’s life. The child is what is most important not an insecure male.

  2. Pat permalink

    Janet, it is a little more complicated than simply labelling this phenomena as ‘male insecurity’. It is often the accepted and practiced family dynamics that feeds into this problem, i.e. some dads spend the majority of time away from the family home working, whilst the mum is the primary care giver during those periods. Both parties are happy with that arrangement (often by necessity), however, more often than not (regardless of whether the dad was a good dad or not), once the parties separate, the dad’s time with his children are diminished (again, sometimes by necessity and workability, and at other times for no other reason than spite).

    What is a further interesting dynamic that comes into play is the ‘knowing’ that regardless of which party causes the relationship to fail (be that the actions of the dad or the actions of the mum) it will more often than not result in the expectation that dad must leave the family home and his time with his children will diminish. That same risk is not commonly present for women and the pressure that often places on a dad is often ignored and not considered by the other party.

    I have had countless clients (both men and women) who tell of similar expectations, where men get told by their wives “if you ever play up on me you’ll be out and you won’t see the kids” or alternatively “if I have an affair its because I’ve been unhappy (which is your fault) and our relationship is over and you’ll need to leave the home because I’m the primary care giver”.

    Surprisingly, I have had a lot of women confirm these expectations even in the event they were responsible for the affair that led to the marriage breakdown. I have had many women clients who lack empathy towards dad’s in that position and are totally apathetic to the dad’s concerns for lack of time with his children that may follow (again, and in some cases, at no fault of the dad). I’m not suggesting for one minute that dad’s are the victims in all cases … far from it.

    What is concerning is the ‘social conditioning’ that is developing that regardless of which party may be responsible for the marriage break down, the most common solution sought is for the removal of the dad from the family unit, and often thereafter, a reduction of the dad’s time with his children. I’m not suggesting that ‘fault’ becomes a primary determinative in these types of matters, however, parties who make choices for themselves (choices that may not be in the best interest of a child) is but one factor that ought to be considered and a support structure specific to that family’s needs ought to be placed around the family unit in an attempt to ensure that relationships are maintained by both parents with their children.

    I agree with Gary that the solutions is not a 50/50 in all cases and that each family unit must be assessed to determine the best possible arrangement that is ultimately in the best interest of the child. However, when you take the common expected outcome into account (that many men are acutely aware of), it is not surprising that their reaction is to seek a 50/50, often out of fear that their relationship will diminish with their children.

    Great article Gary.

  3. Ken permalink

    Interesting article with only one slight exception.

    The assumption that “mothers” are primary parents. This article is very hetro-oriented and one does have to question how the theory could be better presented in the absence of gender. As a transgendered parent (female to male) and someone who has many friends who are gay and/or lesbian many of these parents object to 50-50.

    Which makes me consider if the issue actually is something that goes beyond the the legacy 1950’s gender roles of mother (female) and father (male) that so many people in the family law industry rely upon.

    As a transgendered (female to male) parent of 2 children whom I have court ordered 50-50 residency with to gender identify the issue in such a simple form may not fully expose the issue of why 50-50 is opposed.

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