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Contact time vs Nursery attendance
Hi everyone,

I am in the process of suggesting a new contact schedule and I would like to ask a few questions:

Me and my ex separated 2 years ago, at the time my son was 1.5 years old. From age 1.5 years old to 2.5 years old, I used to travel to where he now lives (we live 33 miles apart, roughly 45 mins drive) and took him out locally on every Saturday and return him at 6/7pm. For the second year, from age 2.5 years old till now, 3.5 years old, I now see him fortnightly, on a Thursday and Saturday for a full day (8-9 hours in total including the commuting), where I take him back to my city and he spends time with me and my parents+siblings, and drops him back at 7pm/8pm.

The reason for a Thurs+Sat on alternate weeks is because he was breastfed for 26 months and have co slept with mum ever since birth. He has not spent a night without her, she is one of those hands on mum that does everything for the child herself. So as a result, I have not pressed for a full weekend with overnights, and travelling 33 miles x 2 on two continuous days is too much (i.e. a Sat and a Sun) so we arranged Thurs and Sat so there would be a gap in between.

Recently I have asked my ex for 1 night overnight fortnightly but she has refused. She doubts my caring abilities as in her books, I have the child after breakfast, play with him all day and am only responsible for lunch, and then hand him back for dinner and bedtime. I do have to admit he is a fussy eater and even lunch is a struggle. He only eats properly if it's his mum feeding him, otherwise he is happy to go hungry all day long!

So in light of this, I have asked if I can have him Thurs+Sat one week and a Friday another week. She is reluctant to pull him out of nursery as he has been in nursery for the last 2 years (5 days a week for 4-5 hours a day) ever since we separated, and even the Thurs is very unsettling for him, having to return to nursery on Fri and then again seeing me on a Sat. The other reason for refusal is also because she wants to keep the arrangement to fortnightly only.

She works part time for 18 hours and has a flexible job where she can work from home some days, so I can't argue that she is using nursery for her own childminding purpose.

Since age 2 he has been getting free 15 hours funding. And in coming Sept 2018, he will be entitled to 30 hours free funding a week.

I can’t see the point of taking her to court as she is giving me contact, 2 full days fortnightly, and extra days for special occasions such as mine or my family members' birthdays etc (on those days he misses out on nursery day), so I do get to see my son 5-6 days in a month.

Moving forward, I am confused as to how to go about getting my days if the child is genuinely not ready for overnights yet and he will be in a school based nursery from this Sept 2018. Will they view nursery as non compulsory until he is 4.5 years in Sept 2019, and promote contact time with father, or will they actually side with mother and thinks the Thursday is no longer workable given the confusion it creates for the child?

In legal terms, how do courts view contact time vs nursery time? Should the child be pulled out of nursery on certain days to meet the non resident parent? Certainly mum can argue that nursery is good for the child and necessary in prepping him for starting school. Although I am hoping to sort this out with my ex privately, it would be good to know what the law thinks and if any of you can think outside the box and give me some suggestions please. (school/nursery pick and drop is out of the question given our distance)

All I want is to continue spending time with my son, somehow getting 5-6 days a month. Thank you.
I can't answer that question about nursery time versus contact unfortunately - someone else may know. But at three and a half years old there is no reason why you shouldn't have your son staying overnight with you. In fact the longer it is left the harder it will be for him to adjust to this.

I co-parented my son from being a few weeks old and had him overnight once a week initially, then twice a week. This was mainly because the Mum liked to have a night out! He was in nursery full time from being 6 months old. So I would collect him from nursery when it finished around 3pm and return him to nursery the following morning. When he got a bit older I used to sometimes take him out of nursery earlier on my nights - at lunch-time. His Mother also worked and it was a long week for him being in nursery from 6am in the morning 5 days a week, so on my nights I collected him earlier. The difference though is I lived nearby and am self employed.

I assume you wouldn't be able to collect him from nursery at the time it finishes due to working hours, and if you are free all day on Thursdays I see no reason why he shouldn't spend that time with you rather than being in nursery.

Can I ask what your working arrangements are? Sounds like all day Thursday and all day Friday are fine for you. In which case it might be better if you had him Friday and Saturday every week, keeping him over on Friday nights.

There are some financial implications - all the while you are not having him overnight, your ex gets the fully assessed child support from you (which I assume has been sorted and you're paying). If you have him overnight that amount is reduced by the number of nights you have him. If you think that may be the issue you could offer to continue to pay the same amount of child support as a private arrangement. Then she has no incentive to reduce your nights or prevent them.

It is probably also a bit of a control thing in that she wants to be the main parent. And possibly also a belief of hers that he needs to be with his Mother every night. That is not the case. I had a very close bond with my son as a result of sharing his care, giving him his tea, changing nappies, putting him to bed etc. He slept in my room until he was four and would wake up in the morning and get into bed with me and we'd read books together. It's parenting time. And your son has two parents.

Changing her views could be difficult though. At 3 and a half though he must be a bit vocal by now. I would suggest writing a parenting plan as to how you would like it to be agreed and sending it to her. If she doesn't agree, then book an appointment at mediation and say to her you'd like to discuss the ongoing arrangements with a mediator present to help you both draw up a mutually agreed parenting plan that works for both of you and is good for your son.

If you don't want to draw up a parenting plan just yet then just write down your proposal in an email. To be honest I think it's more important he has regular time with you than he goes to nursery every day - 3 days a week is fine. But when he's four he will probably be starting at primary school in reception year and will be full-time every day, so you need something sorting now really before it gets there.

If you applied to court the standard is every other week-end and a midweek night plus half the school holidays. An order could be progressing so it could say, while the child is at nursery he will live with the Father every Friday from 9am to 5pm Saturday. In September 2019 when child starts school he will live with the Father every other week-end from school finish time to school start time on monday morning, and every thursday night from school finish time to return to school on Friday morning.

I put lives with because at the moment you have an informal arrangement with no orders in place. If an order says your child "spends time" with you on x days that effectively gives her a residence order. So best to apply for a "lives with both parents" order. Which is a shared care order. It could be to 5pm Sunday (4 nights a fortnight) instead of 9am Monday (5 nights a fortnight) but best to ask for more and negotiate back.

I think now is the time to try and sort it out well in time before he is four and starts school.

Just to clarify the terminology now is;

Custody was changed to Residence and is now called "Lives with"
Access was changed to Contact and is now called "Spends time with"
Joint or shared residency is now called "Lives with both parents" (shared care).

If the child lives with the Mother she is the parent with care and can call the shots a bit if she is inclined to, saying certain things are more important than time with you and then you end up in court for not seeing him enough.

It does sound fairly amicable at the moment though and that is important. But if you put a proposal forward and she won't agree to it and won't agree at mediation, then you would need to apply for a court order to have an ongoing relationship with your son if she won't agree to overnights. Because you're his other parent, not a visitor.

I suggest you write to her and set out a schedule for now and when he starts school in September 2019 and email it.

eg - As Joe will be starting school in September 2019, I would like to agree a progression of overnight stays with me in the run up to that date. I suggest the following:

Current situation of all day Thursday and all day Saturday changes to: All day Friday and all day Saturday with Joe staying with me overnight on Saturdays until September 2019.
September 2019: Joe being with me every other week-end from after school on Friday through to 5pm on Sundays, and overnight every Wednesday night.

This will mean both of us can still be involved in his school life and care and him spend a reasonable amount of time with both of us.

(In your own words of course but keep it brief).

This is the standard a court would order - but it does mean you go 6 days one week (between Thursday morning and Wednesday afternoon). What I had, by arrangement, was the midweek night being alternating Mondays and Thursdays. This was because son (at the age of 4) demanded it! He didn't want to go more than 3 days without being with either of us.

So you could ask for: Every other week-end from Friday after school to Sunday 5pm, then Thursday after school to Friday morning, then Monday after school to Tuesday morning, then back to your week-end.

She will probably say no as she has already said no to overnights. But if you have that email (or parenting plan) you can take it along to mediation along with her response and the mediator will hopefully persuade her or tell her that you would get that if you applied to court so she might as well agree to it. If she agrees it can be put into a consent order so it's binding. The agreement would be drawn up and sent to court for sealing as a consent order. If she doesn't agree you would need to apply to court for a Child Arrangements order.

Informal and amicable arrangements are fine while they work, but "resident" Mothers have so much power and if they won't play ball the only option is to have it legalised/formalised.

I had to do a parenting plan for a court application and used this template - I found it to be very good. Scroll down the page to the download link. You can edit it to add or remove any headings that aren't applicable or you want to change the wording of slightly so it becomes a personalised one. It does help you think about all kinds of things that can end up being argued about in the future and have them agreed at the outset. Under money I put things like - Father pays for school shoes and spare school uniform, Mother pays for school uniform and school coat, both parents pay half of any school trips up to £200. Any school trips costing more need agreement. Father pays x amount of child suppport a month (if it's by agreement it can be any amount you agree but best to have it at least the same as the CMA calculator even if you pay for additional items by agreement).

What I like about it is the initial wording which assumes that the child "lives with" both parents. And I think that's quite subtly done.

Parenting plan template

There are also some sample schedules on this link to look at options for how many days and how things work etc
Thanks for the reply Charlie.

Mid week overnights with returning to school the next morning or Sunday night and returning to school the next morning is not doable comes Sept 2019. The school my son will be going to starts at 8:25am and I can't see that being practical living 33 miles away. Just to clarify once again, he will be starting in that school this Sept 2018 in nursery class, so with the change from current nursery to a school based nursery, even the school based nursery can say the child needs to be prepped for school life so should be in full 5 days attendance. I just don't know, this is simply my guess looking from their point of view and different scenarios should I decide to take any action.

I don't pay my ex any child maintenance as she simply refuses to take any money from me! We do handovers through a childminder which costs £10 for the day, so every fortnight (Thurs+Sat) is £20. That's the only amount I send in my son's bag back with him. She will keep presents such as a new toy or a new pair of shoes occasionally, but not my cash.

Whilst we keep the day visits, it would be ideal to have it weekly, and may be start the fortnightly when he starts school and overnights commence, but she knows should I go down the court route, it would only be fortnightly that I get so she is sticking to that, insisting she needs a weekend with him too.

I am self employed so flexible on days. It doesn't have to be a certain day of the week but her argument is that the child attends nursery 5 days a week and have been doing so for 2 years, so pulling him out to meet dad on certain days is unsettling. She quotes that it is the child's right to contact and not the parent's right, so education and sticking to a stable routine is equally important!

I don't want to dampen the relationship with my ex anymore than what it already is. She is flexible on allowing extra days (has rarely said no), and even timings wise, she gives me an hour or two extra here and there so I am really confused as to what to do. All I can think of is may be extra days over holidays, like every 2nd day or every 3rd day, throughout the summer holidays??

Another point coming to my mind regarding overnights is, would it be appropriate if I ask her to come and stay in the initial transition period? I do have a 2 bedroom flat so privacy is not an issue (I live on my own and I am single), and I fully acknowledge how much hands on she is in terms of meeting my son's care needs, I never changed him (now potty trained) or bath him or prepared his meals when we were together, although I am having to do that now, making him lunch and a light snack for the day is not the same as having to care for a child for 24/48 hours, which is why from her point of view, she point blank refuses when I asked for overnights. Will the system view that as me being proactive and being child focused in finding a solution, or is this going to go against me?
If the child is in nursery only 4-5 hrs a day what time does he get out? If they finish at say 1pm you could have afternoon, give them their tea then return to Mum?

School holidays are also opportunities for you to have the child . Surely he isn’t in nursery 365 days a year. After school nursery or clubs are not compulsory but neither is day nursery however it is seen as beneficial pre school.

You really should be getting every other weekend at this age.

Sure it’s ok to ask Mum to come you yours and stay overnight but I am guessing she will not do that. She seemingly just doesn’t want you to have overnights.

Nursery to get ready for school but no overnights to get ready for weekend overnights .... Conradictory really.

Keep pushing for overnights.

The proactive view is that your time with your child should progress . However else Do you gain experience in caring for him. Bit similar to nursery before school when you think of it.
"her argument is that the child attends nursery 5 days a week and have been doing so for 2 years, so pulling him out to meet dad on certain days is unsettling. She quotes that it is the child's right to contact and not the parent's right, so education and sticking to a stable routine is equally important!"

The child's relationship with the parents is important. It is easy for your ex to say this as she sees him every day virtually. And there are some views that full time nursery can cause attachment issues. People choose the view that suits them! Anyway - if he misses a day's nursery every week - that is still a routine. Four days nursery, 1 day with Dad. I think personal interaction is more important - your ex gets plenty of that and your son needs it with you too - to keep a bond. Have to go - more later.
(06-17-2018, 07:18 PM)Charlie7000 Wrote: "her argument is that the child attends nursery 5 days a week and have been doing so for 2 years, so pulling him out to meet dad on certain days is unsettling. She quotes that it is the child's right to contact and not the parent's right, so education and sticking to a stable routine is equally important!"

The child's relationship with the parents is important. It is easy for your ex to say this as she sees him every day virtually.  And there are some views that full time nursery can cause attachment issues.  People choose the view that suits them!  Anyway - if he misses a day's nursery every week - that is still a routine.  Four days nursery, 1 day with Dad.  I think personal interaction is more important - your ex gets plenty of that and your son needs it with you too - to keep a bond.  Have to go - more later.

As far as a Court will view this, if the Non Resident Parent is avaliable for contact every other weekend and up to half school holidays that is when it will take place.

Unless you can show a Court that shared care is workable, you will not get it. As the child is in nursery, if workable any contact would be after it.
Posts made by me are my opinion and any factual information should be checked out. If you do not have a Solicitor, often your local CAB can get you some initial advice.

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