Parenting arrangements must fit the needs of all family members. Optimally, parents should try and work out these plans together. The time that the children spend with the parents need to consider work, school, social and family obligations.
The following are some basic guidelines for parenting arrangements:
1. Infants need regularity. Several short visits per week are better than a few longer visits. Become involved in feeding, bathing and changing the child.
2. Pre-schoolers need familiar routines and consistent schedules. Time can be incrementally increased. Overnight visits on the weekend and/or weekday evenings can assure continuity.
3. School age children need more time with each parent and can handle flexible schedules. Extended weekends and overnights during the school week can work well for this age group, however, it is important to arrange these times around school and other activities and the needs of the child.
4. Pre-teens can handle longer visits. More time with the same sex parent may be important in some instances. Schedules must accommodate the extracurricular activities of children at this age level.
5. Teenagers need a “safe harbour” from which they can come and go. Parenting arrangements should not prevent teenagers from being involved with school, peers and employment.
6. How is long distance contact handled? When parents reside in separate communities, holidays may be the only time to spend between one of the parents and the child. Very young children should be accompanied during travel. The amount of time may need to be adjusted depending on the child’s reaction and age. Older children may be able to handle a full holiday schedule but consideration should be given to the child’s recreational activities and employment plans.
7. What about holidays? Holidays are important for children and adults. Plan ahead and make every effort to include time with each parent. Compromises will most likely have to be made, but with co-operation, children can celebrate holiday events with each parent. You may want to consider dividing some holiday activities or alternating them annually.
8. What if my child says he or she doesn’t want to go? Both parents should try to understand what is causing the discomfort. Don’t over-react. Counselling for the child and parent may be helpful. Try and work together to find out what is bothering your child and if the behaviour persists, consider talking to a counsellor about it.
9. Can our visits be supervised? In some cases it is in a child’s best interest to have visits supervised by a third party. A court may order supervised time or a neutral place of exchange when there are concerns about a parent’s interaction with the child or domestic abuse. You may like to speak to a lawyer about this if you believe supervision may be appropriate in your situation.
10. What if I have problems with or about the arrangements? Some of these issues may be the result of emotional issues or lingering problems between parents. Counselling may help resolve these issues.
If you are unable to resolve your differences by talking together or through counselling, try Family Dispute Resolution (FDR). An FDR Practitioner can help you discuss the problems and work toward a co-operative solution.
11. How can I get the parenting arrangements enforced? If the arrangements have been Court-ordered (including my way of consent) you can ask that the terms of the Order be enforced. You should seek legal advice about your specific options in relation to this.
12. What if a parent has not seen the child in a long time? When re-establishing the parent child relationship after a long absence, both parents should put the child’s needs first. Counselling may help a child to understand why a parent has been absent. Take time to develop the relationship using frequent short visits. Gradually and with cooperation a consistent arrangement can be achieved without harm to the child.
13. Can grandparents ask for time with grandchildren? Yes. The Family or Federal Magistrates Court will make a parenting Order with grandparents. Grandparents can have a very special relationship that connects the child with extended family roots and traditions. Grandparents can provide love, affection and emotional support. It is best if extended family members can maintain a neutral and respectful silence on the subject of the parents’ divorce. FDR may be helpful in developing an arrangement for time as between the grandparents and grandchildren.