Planning your child’s time with both parents after separation
If you have separated from your child’s other parent, your plans for your child to spend time with their other parent will depend on several factors:
- Whether you are taking a co-parenting approach and whether you have a Parenting Plan that includes how you communicate and co-operate with each other.
- The age of your child – young children suit a ‘little but often’ routine, whereas older children can benefit from longer periods of time with their other parent.
- Your child’s wishes (like their hobbies and activities) and any specific needs they have.
- Yours and your child’s other parent’s work and other commitments.
- The accommodation of the parent who does not live with the child.
- How far apart you live – parents who live ten minutes apart will have more opportunities for more frequent contact than parents who live further apart.
In the early days, many parents start off without much of a plan. Visits are arranged at short notice, and activities are open and flexible. This can work well if the child is able to see both parents regularly and there is a strong co-parenting relationship. A flexible arrangement requires good communication as well as give and take on all sides.
Children tell us that if they do not know when they are next seeing their other parent, they are likely to worry, especially if there are sometimes long gaps between visits without an explanation. Effective co-parenting requires positive communication and co-operation. It is important to establish the parameters and remain consistent. We advise that you work out a plan together. Consider the practicalities and your own expectations but, most importantly, ask your child what will work best for them.
Things to bear in mind:
Children cope best with predictable and regular routines.
If the children are of school age, it will be helpful to have separate routines for term time and holiday time.
You may want to have special arrangements for days like birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and festivals. It is good to agree and arrange these events well ahead of time.
If you want to take your child away on holiday, you will need extra planning time. Be prepared to talk to each other well in advance before you make any commitments.
Have some flexibility to make changes now and again, but do not make changes without consulting your child’s other parent. Try to be considerate and accommodating when discussing changes.
When it comes to time with the child’s other parent, quality is more important than quantity. If you have only got limited time with your child, make it count – they will remember the good times with you.
Children like doing ordinary, everyday things as well as having treats.
Be prepared to review the arrangements together, especially as your children get older and their needs and wishes change.
Do not worry about making your Parenting Plan perfect. Try it, review it, and then make adjustments along the way as needed to meet your and your child’s changes over time. If you want help getting started, you can use our free Parenting Plan template.
As children get older their needs and wishes change!
As children grow up and develop through the ages and stages of childhood, they gradually become more involved in the world outside of their immediate families. If you and your child’s other parent are separated, you will need to review your agreed arrangements as your child’s needs change. It is always better for children if their parents work together to plan and make decisions in response to these stages and changes.
Starting nursery and school are both significant steps, marking the start of children developing their own social lives. By the time children reach their mid to late teens, it can seem like their friends have become just as important as their family.
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 uniforms are 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.
From experience we know that if you have a good co-parenting relationship, adapting your arrangements to suit your and your child’s changing needs does not have to become a big problem.
Most Parenting Plans have a limited ‘shelf life’ before they need to be reviewed. Sticking rigidly to an outdated plan can be very frustrating for children. Being prepared to review the arrangements is a normal part of sharing the joy (and challenge!) of being there for your child as they grow up and change.
Parents change too – new parents/carers, brothers and sisters
Parents who have been through separation and divorce tell us that it can feel like a crisis when their child’s other parent forms a new relationship. This is amplified if their new partner moves in. Most children become part of a new family after their parents separate and divorce. The prospect of a new baby brother or sister can be exciting to children of all ages but can also feel like another big change and a threat. In some cases, the child’s other parent becomes involved with someone who already has children. If you are the other parent, you are likely to have mixed feelings about your child becoming part of a new family. This is normal and understandable. It is how we deal with these feelings that matters and that means trying not to let them undo the work you have done to create a co-parenting approach that works for your child. Your child will be finely attuned to your reaction and will not want to appear ‘disloyal’ to you.
You might find it helpful to complete a Parenting Plan together. Keeping the dialogue open and maintaining the goodwill makes the difficult conversations that changes like this bring much easier. Mediation could be helpful in maintaining that positive dialogue you have developed over time.