Following separation, the primary consideration and cause of concern for parents of children is often who the children should live with and what is the best arrangement for the time the children will spend with the other parent.
Children of different ages have different needs and priorities and the best arrangements for children do not always fit in with the working schedules of the parents.
Even if both parents are child-focussed and have low levels of conflict, it can be beneficial to discuss options for time arrangements with a specialist psychologist so the developmental needs of the children can be taken into account in any decisions made.
It is also important to take into account the fact that the needs of children will change as they grow, and parents should try to take these developmental changes into account and not be determined to stick with the same regime. This can be difficult for high-conflict parents who often need Court Orders to spell out exactly the time arrangements for the children.
The most appropriate time arrangements are generally those that facilitate the child’s relationship with both parents but allow for age appropriate development to take place.
It is often recommended that babies and toddlers up to the age of about 3 should live with a primary carer, and spend frequent short periods of time with the other parent. Overnight time should be approached conservatively. Overnight time with the other parent in high conflict situations can be problematic, as parents need to be on same page with regards to feeding and sleep schedules and soothing techniques. Consistency and routine are high priorities for babies and toddlers and parents need to discuss these with each other regularly. It is important to also note the baby or toddler’s relationship with the non-primary carer is important and needs to fostered.
Pre-schoolers can generally cope better with overnight time, but regular shorter periods of time away from the primary carer are still recommended. It remains important for parents to be on the same page regarding schedules as well as discipline techniques, and if there is high conflict it may be better to avoid overnight time until the child is older.
Primary school aged children increasingly cope better as they grow older with longer periods of time away from the primary carer and shared arrangements can work if both parents show good will to the other parent and can communicate easily. Routine and predictability remain important for children as well as being shielded from conflict between parents.
Adolescents will usually provide their own input into an appropriate time arrangement which can remain fluid as their needs change. However, it is important to note that adolescents are not adults and require boundaries and predictability from their parents. They should also not be used as confidantes or supporting friends by their parents.
Please note that this is general information only and parents should seek advice regarding the best time arrangements for their children, taking into account individual and family needs. It is also important to note that the safety of the children should remain the most important consideration in any time arrangement.