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When divorced parents can't agree

(64 Posts)
jewatson Thu 11-Oct-12 09:19:52

This is the first time I have posted here and hope that someone can help (I am deliberately being vague as I do not want to give too many details and risk outing myself)

My ex and I have been divorced for 4 years and our relationship is difficult (to say the least). I have always tried to be flexible and put the children's interests first (and I am sure that my ex believes the same thing about himself).

We have come to a point where he wants to change the status quo with regard to christmas and birthdays. I fundamentally disagree with his proposals. He wants me to go to mediation. Can he force this on me? If so, how does it work and will any agreement be legally binding?

olgaga Thu 11-Oct-12 09:31:43

Mediation does allow you to discuss matters in a structured, neutral way and concentrate on what's important. You might find that it works in your favour, if you approach it from the point of view of putting the children's case for the status quo. A lot of this will depend on their ages.

You are welcome to PM me if you like.

olgaga Thu 11-Oct-12 09:32:28

Sorry I meant to say "in a structured way, in a neutral environment".

Collaborate Thu 11-Oct-12 09:58:47

He can't force it upon you, but if the alternative is court, you really should go.

I'm going to take a wild guess here, which is that he wants to alternate Christmasses and birthdays but you won't agree. If that's the case, you should be aware that, absent unusual circumstances, this is the approach favoured by courts.

MOSagain Thu 11-Oct-12 10:05:25

Agree with Collaborate It is only fair that both parents get to spend time with the DC at Christmas, Easter, birthdays etc.
In best interests to reach an amicable agreement as opposed to ending up in Court.

jewatson Thu 11-Oct-12 10:09:28

When we got divorced we went to mediation to agree to maintenance and access. The agreement is clear - I must provide him with fair and reasonable access - one night a week and every other weekend. I do that and more (he has the children for 5 weeks holiday each year).
Given that we already have a court order that neither of us are in breach of... can he take me to court if I do not agree with mediation?
(also, from a practical perspective, surely there won't be time between now and christmas to get this agreed through a court).

Collaborate Thu 11-Oct-12 10:21:59

Yes he can take you to court at any time if you don't agree. Depends where you live and the court's backlog as to whether he could get a hearing before Christmas.

babybarrister Thu 11-Oct-12 11:35:05

agree with Collaborate and would add that in any event an agreement that is 4 years old in relation to children is likely to need reconsidering as children's needs change ...

jewatson Thu 11-Oct-12 14:41:03

babybarrister - why do you think that the agreement is likely to need reconsidering? The children are 13 and 10 and are happy with the access arrangement as it is. It is my ex husband who is looking to change the way we do things for 3 days of the year (I am sure that it is his girlfriend that is driving this which is one of the reasons I am so angry). Surely the whole agreement won't need to be reconsidered because of this?!

MOSagain Thu 11-Oct-12 15:21:17

It is very common for arrangements to change when the children get older.
I don't think it is unreasonable for a father to want to spend some time with his children at christmas and with respects, that is a view that the Courts tend to take too. Of course you are happy with it if you are having them every year but you need to look at it from his point of view too.

In my opinion, if he makes an application to the Court requesting contact alternate christmases I think he would be successful. Far better to agree it amicably than have it imposed by a Court order (and then have no money left to buy the children's christmas presents!)

PostBellumBugsy Thu 11-Oct-12 15:27:24

I think you should go to mediation. If your disagreement with his proposal is valid, then you have nothing to lose.

jewatson Thu 11-Oct-12 16:13:56

Gosh - I am not at all clued up on this sort of thing. If I understand correctly the situation is that if I refuse to attend mediation he could take me to court and I would have to pay...
If that is right it seems grossly unfair. If the court decided that the status quo remained would I still have to pay?

PostBellumBugsy Thu 11-Oct-12 16:16:59

The courts expect parents to make "reasonable" attempts to sort out their own affairs before going to court. If it looks as though you have been unreasonable (and refusing to attend mediation could be seen as unreasonable) then it is possible that they may award you with the costs.

Spero Thu 11-Oct-12 16:21:05

Mediation only works if both parties want it. It has to be an entirely voluntary process.

So no, it can't be forced on you but you would be well advised to give it a go. Although you are very unlikely to be ordered to pay his costs if it goes to court, you will have to pay your own or self represent which carries a high stress/emotional cost.

And children change over time. Especially over four years! The original order may well now not be meeting their needs.

Collaborate Thu 11-Oct-12 16:58:14

Agree with Spero.

Qwertyytrewq Thu 11-Oct-12 17:05:21

From 6 and 9, to 10 and 13 aren't arrangements going to change?

At 13 my daughter tells me what's happening.

NotaDisneyMum Thu 11-Oct-12 19:18:45

watson sorry to hijack, but could you explain how you got a court order if you agreed contact arrangements in mediation?
I've mediated several times with my ex - we always come to an agreement only for it to he broken further down the line - a court order enforcing our agreement would be my preferred option but keep being advised by my solicitor that the courts have a "no order" principle and that if I want an order I shouldn't come to an agreement in mediation ????

jewatson Thu 11-Oct-12 20:04:06

I might be using the terminology incorrectly.
Before my ex and I were divorced we went to mediation in order to agree the financial settlement and access arrangements. The divorce document (which I always assumed was a court order) details all of these arrangements.
We did not discuss specific dates e.g. xmas and birthdays because there was an understanding between us that we would do what was right for the children. Until now we have always had christmas together in my home.

Bonsoir Thu 11-Oct-12 20:07:05

"I am sure that it is his girlfriend that is driving this which is one of the reasons I am so angry."

So, if I understand the thread correctly, your exH now has a girlfriend and he and she would like to spend Christmas together, with the children on alternate years?

That is what the courts will give you if it goes that far.

I've been divorced 3 years. We did have Christmas together for the first 2 years but when his long term girlfriend moved down here, we went to alternate Christmases at his/ mine. It is painful. But we were divorced, and I felt it was fair that we took turns. You can either opt to have them for the morning on the big day and maybe lunch and then he collects them, so you both see them on the big day and then switch that round the following year. Or opt to have them the whole day one year and then not the next. Or similar.

It is very hard but when the marriage is over, there does come a time when ex spouses want to do things individually with the kids, especially when they have a new partner. Are they living together now I take it? Or is it all happening too quickly for comfort perhaps and she is a very new gf?

What are his plans, what does he want exactly?

I think the fact he wants to try and resolve this through mediation is good. Mediation can work very well.

jewatson Thu 11-Oct-12 20:21:55

No, she is not a new girlfriend. She has been with my ex since we divorced and has been living with him for over a year now.
He actually hasn't said that he wants the children on xmas day. He would like to have them from boxing day for a week (he always has them for the 31st and 1st). I know that my children love the way that we spend xmas and I think that he is putting his partner ahead of our children's best interests. I know that for most people that will sound unreasonable but it's what I know is true. For the children to be away from me for a week at this time of year is not fair on anyone.

sudaname Thu 11-Oct-12 20:23:47

Do you mean you, your DCs and your Exh spend Christmas Day at your house or just you and the DCs.

If it's the former you can hardly blame his DP or your EXh for that matter for wanting to spend Xmas day together and him still wanting to see his DCs at least every other year. Hell would freeze over before l would put up with my DH spending Xmas day with 'her who shant be mentioned' grin

If it's the latter l think it's about time he had a turn of waking up to his DCs on Xmas morning dont you ?

longjane Thu 11-Oct-12 20:24:06

so he see the kids every christmas
and now he want to see to the kids every other Christmas
which is quite sad really

jewatson yes i would go to mediation
but have a list of dates yourself that you always want
mothers day
your birthday
your parents birthdays
any other day you celebrated

also divide up the bank hoildays
and easter
and the kids birthday

get a proper order writtian out
STICK TO IT by the letter dont do any swaps if you dont want to

Sorry but I think you are mixing up what suits you with 'what's right for the children.' It is not unreasonable of your XP to want to spend every other Xmas with his girlfriend and his children. She has been with him for nearly 4 years and living with him for over a year so the children presumably know and like her as well.

Bonsoir Thu 11-Oct-12 20:30:30

jewatson - you are being deeply unreasonable here.

RandomMess Thu 11-Oct-12 20:33:33

What do the dc want, have you actually asked them?

jewatson Thu 11-Oct-12 20:37:26

Of course I have asked them and they both are unhappy with the arrangement.
However, my ex also says that he has asked them and they are happy with his proposal (which I don't believe).
My oldest is going to talk to him this weekend to tell him that she doesn't want to spend a week away from me over xmas. Hopefully he'll listen to her this time.

Bonsoir Thu 11-Oct-12 20:39:56

You do realise that it is entirely normal to split the Christmas holidays down the middle, and for children to spend half with each divorced parent, alternating year on year? And entirely normal for your exH to have a new life with a new partner and not to have to organise their whole life around his exW's whims?

"For the children to be away from me for a week at this time of year is not fair on anyone" Or not fair on you? I know that's a tough question, but it's worth thinking about.

How would your children feel about a holiday with them? Is it a one off thing just this year? What does he want to do with them for that week?

The fact he lets you have them every Christmas is very generous and I'm amazed he hasn't wanted to take turns on Christmas day. I know this probably isn't what you want to hear love, but you are divorced and surely no girlfriend will want her boyfriend to spend every Christmas away from her with his children. Surely she'll want to be included sooner or later as a step parent and spend time with the children as a couple regularly? It is a painful part of divorce but when you separate and divorce this is what happens, sooner or later things become more divided, as you're no longer a couple. In fact some arsehole ExH's steam roll their ExW's into every other Christmas very early on and play happy families with their new beau and the children and that can be very very hard. You have a very reasonable ExH here tbh. Truly!

I think mediation is the only way to work through this, you probably won't get what you want but perhaps you can both meet in the middle and find a compromise. He does sound reasonable to me though.

I have a lot of friends who are divorced, as well as me and most of us take turns on the big day and also wave our children off for a holiday with our ExH and their girlfriends. We always miss them of course and it hurts, as this is never what we planned for our kids but they all have a lovely time away with them and come back smiling, looking forward to seeing us again. I used the last 4 day break from the kids to redecorate their bedroom, as a nice surprise for them.

Christmas is a special time of year but you could plan some lovely things with friends for those few days and go out and have a blast. I'm sure your kids would also have a great time away with their Dad too.

Unless I'm missing something and their Dad or his girlfriend is abusive to them?

Hmm unless I'm misreading your most recent post, it sounds like your children feel a bit caught in the middle to me, and do not want you to be upset and miss them for a week, so they say one thing to you and then say another thing to him, as they do not want to upset him either sad

I would try to stop talking about it to the kids and go to mediation and then whatever decision is reached you try to rise above it and be positive about this break at Christmas, amicable to your ExH and supportive to your kids etc.

RandomMess Thu 11-Oct-12 20:47:47

Well if the dc don't want to why don't you suggest an alternative, what are they happy to go for if 7 days is too long? 4 days & nights?

VBisme Thu 11-Oct-12 21:00:13

It is difficult, but stop putting the kids in the middle, they're clearly feeling torn between you both.

If I understand correctly you get the kids for Christmas Day (the family time), and he gets them for New Year's Eve (the party time), every single year? wink

No wonder he wants things changed grin

You must go to mediation, it will look awful to the court if you don't.

When it goes to court self represent (it's cheaper and honestly this seems fairly clear cut).

At 13 they will ask the children what they want to do. I hope you and your ex leave them to decide instead of making them feel guilty.

RandomMess Thu 11-Oct-12 21:18:30

I let my dd spend Christmas with her Dad after he moved again. No way does she want to do it again, it was boring, her words - not mine!

PostBellumBugsy Fri 12-Oct-12 09:48:13

Of course your DCs are going to say to you that they are happy being with you at Christmas. They'd be fairly horrible kids if they said anything else. I imagine they'll say the same thing to their Dad too - because they are probably lovely kids & they don't want to hurt anyone.

Please go to mediation with your ex & get this sorted out before your children get stressed out, having to act as go betweens.

I really understand how you feel, I'm divorced & I've done 4 Christmases without my DCs & I hate it - but I also know that it isn't fair on the DCs to not get to enjoy Christmas with their Dad too.

olgaga Fri 12-Oct-12 10:54:00

The children are 13 and 10 and are happy with the access arrangement as it is. It is my ex husband who is looking to change the way we do things for 3 days of the year

The children are obviously having plenty of contact with their dad. 5 weeks holiday, every other weekend and one midweek overnight is plenty! I think all OP is saying is that she wants the children to have the Christmas they want. The ex wants to have the Christmas he wants. That's the only reason why she disagrees with him.

I think it's unfair to say OP is being unreasonable. In these circumstances a 13 year old is entitled to express her view and have it taken into account. Why would the child lie to her mother about this - it would be a very easy lie to disprove. It's more likely the ex is lying because it fits his agenda and he is confident that the OP will not put pressure on the child to disprove it.

It boils down to whether the ex wants to do Christmas his way, and disregard the children's views, or their way - and keep them happy.

Why should his wishes override theirs? It sounds to me like there's a "point of principle" at stake here along the lines of "this year it's time we put our foot down" which has nothing to do with the wishes and interests of the children.

cestlavielife Fri 12-Oct-12 11:06:10

"He would like to have them from boxing day for a week (he always has them for the 31st and 1st)"

i dont get the problem really. you still get xmas day with them.

just do what you would do on boxing day with them, on the 24th or 23rd.

embrace the enw change and enjoy

olgaga Fri 12-Oct-12 11:16:24

The problem isn't how the OP feels. It's how the children feel.

Collaborate Fri 12-Oct-12 11:35:28

I think the problem is that children will more often than not tell each parent what they want to hear. If neither parent gets that, they will never be able to reach agreement.

Neither parent has a monopoly of wisdom over their children's wishes, feelings, and best interests.

PostBellumBugsy Fri 12-Oct-12 11:37:18

But it is hard to know exactly how children feel, when they are saying one thing to one parent & one thing to the other!

My two will agree to anything I suggest & anything their Dad suggests. They hate being forced to make a choice between us & understandably so.

Even though I find my ex-H really difficult, we try to agree stuff & deliver it as a done deal to the DCs. We fail sometimes, because we get on each others nerves so much - but that is what we try to do.

FWIW, I think it is really unfair to have the kids play piggy in the middle of the "keep the parent happy" game.

wordfactory Fri 12-Oct-12 11:39:06

OP why don't you want the DC to spend a week with their Dad?

Qwertyytrewq Fri 12-Oct-12 12:00:30

'The children are obviously having plenty of contact with their dad. 5 weeks holiday, every other weekend and one midweek overnight is plenty'

Is it?

I wouldn't be happy with it.

olgaga Fri 12-Oct-12 12:15:47

But it is hard to know exactly how children feel, when they are saying one thing to one parent & one thing to the other!

That is the conclusion that everyone has jumped to. It could just as easily be the case that the ex is lying.

Qwertyytrewq I wouldn't be happy with it.

Er - so what? You aren't their dad. It evidently suits the dad in this case. He is not asking for more contact, he is asking to change the children's preferred arrangements at Christmas.

OP has not said she doesn't want them to spend a week with their Dad.

She said My oldest is going to talk to him this weekend to tell him that she doesn't want to spend a week away from me over xmas.

These children will soon be old enough to vote with their feet. If he has half a brain he'll do it the way they want, or risk alienating them further, and faster.

Spero Fri 12-Oct-12 14:45:45

fwiw, in my experience it is FAR more likely that children are telling each parent what they think that parent wants to hear than that one parent is brazenly lying about what the children have said.

Very sad case last week - both parents saying in statements they had 'sat down' with their children and had a good long talk and each were convinced they knew what the children wanted... whereas the children told CAFCASS they didn't want to talk about it, it just made them sad and they wanted to be 'fair' to each parent.

Both of you will lose if you treat the children like prizes to be won or lost. Children ought to be able to move happily between parents. I don' think a week is particularly long for children of that age.

But whatever the reality, communication and mediation is much, much better than an adversarial battle in court. Believe me, there really are no winners in that scenario.

Well said spero.

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 16:50:31

Interesting thread and I don't want to crash it but I have a related question.

ExH and I have been divorced 6 years, 2 DCs. No contact order. When we separated, I was not working and he worked full time. The DCs were only 4 and 2 so I agreed to him having 3 weekends out of 4 because I had so much week time with them. I always said that when I went back to work I would want every other weekend. When I did go back to work 2 years later I raised this and he went beserk and in the end I compromised to 2 weekends out of 3.

Now, another 4 years later the DCs are 10 and 8. They love their dad of course but the weekend arrangement means we hardly spend any time together. I work long hours and only have 1 weekend with them every 3 weeks. The things we do together (I play a sport with DS and do another hobby with DD), we can only do once every 3 weeks. Equally, things they want to do at weekends like birthday parties of friends, or when DS wanted to do rugby on Saturdays, are a massive problem. ExH refuses and then makes out as if I am "stealing" his time. We live 80 miles apart so it isn't viable for him to drop the kids off at their friends' or collect them and he makes such a fuss about it whenever one of these requests is made that either the DC in question ends up going "oh ok then Dad", or I have to have world war 3 with him about it. He doesn't see them mid-week so he never sees the subsequent crying about how "everyone else went to X's party and they were all saying how brilliant it was", and if I tell him, he says I'm lying.

I had hoped that as the DCs got older they would be more forceful with him and make it clear that they want to do their stuff, where they live, and not just what their da wants to do where he lives. But he is very overbearing and always says to them (I hear it on the phone) "well you can see your friends any time but you can only see me at the weekend, don't you love me?" Which makes them feel guilty so they give in.

I hate this for them, and of course I also want more time with them myself. What would be the position if I told him we are doing every other weekend now? Would the fact that 2 weekends in 3 with him has been the status quo affect things? Also, if the children were consulted and felt so guilty about their dad's feelings that they said they would keep it how it is, would a CAFCASS officer see through that?

I don't want to have a war about this but it seems so unfair on me and the DCs to be stuck with this arrangement and I would really like to change it. I know however that exH will not only not agree, he will get a lawyer involved and so I'd really like to know where I stand.

Sorry so long.

Collaborate Fri 12-Oct-12 17:07:36

Contact arrangements are never set in stone so worth a go. Mediation first and then court if you can't agree. You could act unilaterally, but that wouldn't be I think the right or proper thing to do.

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 17:19:31

So, I tell him this is what I want to do, he says no, I say shall we go to mediation - is that how it works? If he says no to mediation can I impose an every other weekend arrangement then and wait for him to go to court over it?

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 17:20:02

Forgot to say: thanks Collaborate

Bonsoir Fri 12-Oct-12 17:33:08

Ginda - as it stands currently, you get the DCs every week, when you are working and they are at school and you are all busy, and your exH never takes on weekly responsibility but gets 66% of weekends.

This is grossly unfair and in court you would be looked on sympathetically for shouldering so much responsibility and would be very likely to get every other weekend. You should go to mediation and make sure your exH hears the message that he will lose in court.

longjane Fri 12-Oct-12 17:40:30

could you offer him more time in holidays? as a pay off

Bonsoir Fri 12-Oct-12 17:42:57

Honestly and truthfully, Ginda's exH doesn't need a pay off. He needs to shoulder more responsibility, not just fun time.

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 17:45:22

Thanks bonsoir and longjane. He already has half the hols and could have more but it wouldn't really help him as he - like me - only has a limited about of holiday to take himself.

He has a new baby - does that change anything? I know he is very anxious that the DCs don't feel the new baby has supplanted them in his affections so he I even less likely to agree to any reduction in contact at all.

Bonsoir Fri 12-Oct-12 17:59:38

Ginda - what responsibilities does your exH shoulder for your DCs?

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 18:11:17

I'm not sure what you mean, quite, Bonsoir. He pays maintenance for them (at the same rate it was set at 6 years ago). He has them most weekends. At the weekends what he does with them tends to be what he wants, i.e. they go to the shops, have a meal out, otherwise stay at home watching Sky Sports. He ensures they do their homework (well, his wife does).

He has never taken them to a theme park or to "do" anything they like, e.g. To the leisure centre to do a sport of some kind, or a craft place (DD likes this). He likes to stay at home, eat, and watch tv (one of the contributing factors to the end of our marriage!)

I would not tell him what he "should" do on his weekends but I do think that as kids get older they want to pursue more activities and this should be encouraged and not stymied because "it detracts from my time with them".

He comes to parents' evenings and plays at school and things most of the time, not all of the time. He phones them every night, except when he is out for dinner which is about once a week. If he cannot speak to them and thinks it is because I am deliberately preventing it (which I never do), he is very abusive. He does not understand that, if I get home from work at 7pm and the kids go to bed at 8.30, then for him to spend half an hour every night on the phone to them takes a lot of "my" time away. He will not phone earlier, which I have suggested. His response was "don't be silly, Ginda" and then he just carried on calling at 8pm.

He has no real conception of the realities of organising 2 kids every day, as he installed his current wife as soon as he and I separated, whereupon she immediately stopped all employment and devoted herself to him and therefore does most of what I expect him to do, with the DCs. I am grateful for that, though obviously I would prefer it if he showed more understanding of their needs himself.

Bonsoir Fri 12-Oct-12 18:16:08

Does he plan their education? Does he do interesting trips with them in the holidays? Does he buy them books and take them to shows and museums? Does he buy their clothes and shoes?

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 18:44:43

Yes he is involved with education and does all that. If anything, on the material things front he well outdoes me. He earns a lot more than me and just buys everything for them to have at his - won't let them bring any of it home. So they have £100 iPod docks there, £50 trainers, every games console available... I can't afford those things. No expense spared - so long as it's all at his house, on his terms.

Bonsoir Fri 12-Oct-12 18:46:09

I don't mean buying them toys, I mean buying them educational experiences.

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 18:58:15

No, does that affect contact?

Spero Fri 12-Oct-12 20:28:34

I agree with collaborate. Try to talk to him, suggest mediation - if he won't budge only option is court I am afraid. I agree this isn't a great arrangement - as they get older time with peers at weekends will get more important, and rightly so. He does need to loosen up a bit.

Bonsoir Fri 12-Oct-12 20:38:11

Yes of course it does: if one parent, the mother, is shouldering all the responsibility and the other parent, the father, is Disney Dad incarnate, that affects how a court will feel about contact.

Qwertyytrewq Fri 12-Oct-12 22:04:19

As he moved 80 miles away what did he expect to happen?

Ginda Fri 12-Oct-12 22:11:09

On a logistical level, what does going to mediation mean? How do you arrange it?

olgaga Fri 12-Oct-12 22:31:30
Spero Sat 13-Oct-12 14:06:29

Google providers in your area and make an appointment. They may do an initial intake meeting to check if is suitable for mediation then you meet for a couple of sessions. Costs vary but budget about £100 an hour. Agreements reached at mediation are not legally binding but can be turned into a consent order if you apply to court.

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