Child contact after divorce

 

Dad playing football with sonYour children need both their parents in their lives - unless there are complicating factors, such as domestic violence. Working out child contact after divorce may not be easy and it can take a while before you come up with the arrangements that work best for all of you, but it's hugely important to do your best to get it right.

In many cases, the child or children remain with one parent (usually, the mother) and have contact arrangements so they spend time with their father. Typically, they might see their dad every other weekend and/or some days/nights each week.

If a court is involved in drawing up child contact arrangements, the wishes and feelings of children will be taken into account, provided they're old enough to make their feelings clear (there is no set age for this).

The Parent Connection says that a shared care arrangement for parents who are in conflict won't work for your children, even if it suits you. So it suggests you ask yourselves the following:

  • Can you communicate and negotiate fairly well about the children?
  • Do you basically respect your ex as a parent despite your relationship disappointments and personal differences?
  • Can you put your personal disagreements and conflicts to one side and focus on what the children need in a given situation?
  • Is there compromise and give and take when there are disagreements?
  • Can you share control and respect the autonomy of the other parent’s household?
  • Are your fundamental child rearing values and practicalities similar?
  • Can you tolerate your differences without seeing them as detrimental to the children, and can you distinguish between the important and unimportant differences?
  • Do you value what the other parent has to offer your child?
  • Are you willing to tolerate the personal inconvenience and extra work in coordinating schedules?
  • Is your child able to handle transitions?
  • Before separation, were the child-rearing tasks shared (not necessarily equally)? If not, is there a commitment to increase sharing now?

If you answer 'yes' to most of these questions, then shared care may work for you. If there are some important 'no's then you might mediation, or counselling to help you work through problem areas. 

Handover

Sharing the care of your child may affect your benefits and tax credits, and may reduce the amount of child support the non-resident parent is required to pay. Call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline free on 0808 802 0925 for more information.

The points when your child is passed from one parent to the other are often the most searing moments in life for both the child and his or her newly separated parents.

It's difficult for kids to adapt to the change in routine, moving from 'how mummy does things' to 'how daddy does things'; what's more, children are often unhappy at having to move to a different house and a different bedroom.

Younger children may not like the change in where they sleep and how things are done; older kids might resent being wrenched from their friends. It can be a tricky time.

To make the handover go as well as possible:

  • Make it quick and smooth - a long goodbye and emotion on your part won't help your child and it won't help you either
  • Try finding neutral territory - for example, get your ex-partner to collect your child from school or from a relative's house
  • Don't get drawn into a row with your ex, however difficult he is being, because the fallout from a row at handover time can be very far-reaching and disturbing for your children


Managing holidays and contact after divorce

Holidays can be tricky, and it's usually worth opening a debate with your ex-partner as much in advance as possible. Parents tend to share holiday time, so for example in the summer kids will spend three weeks with one parent and three weeks with the other.

But if you're both going on holiday, that might not leave any time for them to just chill out at home with their friends - remember that your kids' needs must be properly taken into account. School holidays aren't just for racing around, they're for slumping around and recharging the batteries at home, too.

When one parent is taking the children on holiday, especially if abroad, it's important to share as much information as possible about eg flight numbers, hotel phone numbers and so on. Don't rely on the children's mobile phones as your only point of contact - you need proper information about where they are and what they're doing.

What happens when there's a new partner on the scene?

If your ex gets a new partner, things can change around contact arrangements. He may be less available for your children, which will be frustrating for them, and maybe for you, too, or he may be more available, wanting them to have days out with him and his new partner.

"My ex moved 200 miles away and comes up every five to six weeks to see our daughter (6) for one day. He arrives at 11am and leaves at 4pm. If asked to stay an extra hour he throws a hissy fit so I don't bother asking now. I think you have to try not to let it worry you. You can't make him behave as you want him to or as he should, and it's better to learn that lesson early on." FuppyGish

If you and your ex have a reasonable relationship, it's probably worth asking him if you can talk openly about his new partner, rather than having to hear all the news from your kids. It's a very good idea to resist the temptation to quiz children about any aspect of their contact time, but that's especially true of quizzes over 'daddy's new girlfriend'.

If you're struggling to make your contact arrangement work and need new tactics to try, draw on the wisdom of the Divorce and Separation Talk board crowd.

Last updated: 10-May-2013 at 12:19 PM