Planning parenting time after separation

Every family is different. If you’ve separated from your partner, your plans for parenting time will depend on several factors:

  • The ages of the children – young children suit a ‘little but often’ routine, whereas older children can deal with longer blocks of time.
  • Parents’ work and other commitments – shift workers may have more restrictions than parents who work from home.
  • The accommodation of the parent who doesn’t live with the children.
  • How far apart the two homes are – parents who live ten minutes apart will have more opportunities for frequent visits than parents who live two hours apart.
  • The children’s wishes and any specific needs they have.
  • The type of co-parenting relationship you have – this includes factors like how well you communicate and co-operate.

In the early days, many families start without much of a plan. Visits are arranged at short notice, and activities are open and flexible. This can work well if the children are getting to see both parents regularly and there is a strong co-parenting relationship. A flexible arrangement requires good communication and give and take on all sides.

If children don’t know when they’re next seeing their mum or dad, they may start to worry, especially if there are sometimes long gaps between visits. Co-parenting requires frequent communication and co-operation, so it’s important to establish the parameters and remain consistent.

Work out a plan together. Consider the practicalities and your own expectations but, most importantly, ask the children how they feel about it all.

Things to bear in mind:

  • Children cope best with predictable and regular routines.
  • If the children are of school age, it can be helpful to separate routines for term time and holiday time.
  • You’ll probably want to have special arrangements for days like birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which are good to agree and arrange far ahead of time.
  • If you want to take the children away on holiday, you will need extra planning time. Be prepared to consult each other well in advance before you make any commitments.
  • Have some flexibility to make changes now and again, but don’t make changes without consulting your child’s other parent. Try to be considerate and accommodating when discussing changes.
  • When it comes to parenting time, quality is more important than quantity. If you’ve only got limited time with your children, make it count – they will remember the good times.
  • Children like doing ordinary, everyday things as well as having treats.
  • Be prepared to review the arrangements.

Don’t worry about making your parenting plan perfect on the first attempt. Try it, review it, and then make adjustments as needed. If you want a template to get things started, you can use our free parenting plan.

As children grow, their needs change

As children grow up and develop through different stages, they gradually become more involved in the world outside their immediate families. If you and your child’s other parent are separated, you may need to review your parenting arrangements as your child’s needs change.

Starting nursery and school are both significant steps, usually marking the start of children developing their own social lives. By the time children reach their mid to late teens, it might seem like their friends have become more important than their family.

For separated parents, life transitions like these can also trigger a need to review the childcare arrangements. If possible, it’s better for children if both parents are involved in the planning and decision making around these stages and changes.

Older children may want to take on part-time jobs or have weekend sleepovers at their friends’ homes.

When children start school, parents need to consider that parenting time will be built around the beginning and end of the school day and term times. All parents will also have to take responsibility for making sure homework gets done and school uniform is washed and ready for Monday morning. If your children spend part of the school week at both homes, you will find that good communication and planning are essential to keeping life easy.

If you have a good co-parenting relationship, adapting the arrangements to suit your children’s changing needs doesn’t have to be a big issue. If, however, you find agreeing changes with the other parent difficult and avoid discussing the need to review things, you may find things suddenly aren’t working anymore.

Most parenting plans have a shelf life of about two years before they need to be reviewed. Sticking rigidly to an outdated plan can be very constricting to children. Be prepared to accept that reviewing the arrangements is a normal part of sharing the joys and challenges of watching your children grow up.

New parents and siblings

It’s common for children to become part of a new stepfamily after their parent’s relationship ends. The prospect of a baby brother or sister can be exciting to children of all ages but can also feel like a threat. If you’re the other parent, you may have mixed feelings about your co-parent’s new family, but your priority should be to support your children.

If you find it difficult to support your ex, try to see it as an opportunity to show goodwill by accommodating changes to arrangements around the birth of the baby and being flexible around parenting time.

Please see our online Parenting Plan for help setting up and reviewing child arrangements.

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