This is our second blog talking about practical children issues.  In the last blog in this series we looked at whether children can adjust to having two homes and two bedrooms.  In this blog we’re talking about what do you actually have to sort out. This is something that can be confusing for parents. Many parents assume that there is some kind of central body that they have to register with, or someone they have to report their arrangements too. This really isn’t the case. As long as you and your ex partner are able to make arrangements that you and your children are happy with then no one is going to interfere with this and you don’t have to tell anyone or register with anybody.

But what kind of arrangements do you need to make? We have included three areas below where you might find it useful to have a routine or a clear plan in place.

When are children with mum and when are they with dad

There are a lot of labels that are tied up in separated parenting arrangements. You may have heard terms like “shared care” “co-parenting” “primary carer” and other such terms. Frankly we don’t think they are particularly helpful. In family mediation sessions we talk about when Lucy and Toby are with dad and when they are with mum.  It can be helpful for all of you to have a structure in place as to when children are with mum and when they’re with dad.  This enables you both to make plans for events where your children will be with you and events when they won’t be.

This might be a regular arrangements that you have which means that on certain days children are with mum and on the other days they’re with dad. This can be a clear way of everybody knowing where they are.  But it doesn’t work for some people. Those on changing shift patterns, or those that travel with work can find it hard to commit to always having their children with them on particular days of the week. So sometimes they have a pattern that changes and they have a particular pattern for one week and a pattern for the next week. Other people plan a calendar for a set period into the future and then come back together to plan the next few weeks.

There are no right or wrong answers. There is only what works for you and your children. These are some things to bear in mind:

• Clarity is really important. Everyone should know what is happening on each day. It’s stressful for all of you – and particularly for children – to not know who is collecting from school on a particular day. So have a clear plan that everyone understands and ensure everybody is clear if any changes need to be made.

• It can help for children to have a copy of a calendar or diary so that they can see what parent is collecting them. Some children, and particularly those on the autistic spectrum, can become very anxious if there are unexpected changes or if anything falls between the cracks. It doesn’t matter what system you use (google calendar, old school pen and paper/diary, our family wizard – which is an online co-parenting tool with loads of great co-parenting tips) but have a system that works for BOTH of you and your children

• Review it regularly to check if it is working for both of you and for your children. What could work better? What does everyone like about the system?

• How will you manage making sure uniform, clothes, sports kits, books etc are in the right place? Is it easy to pop back to each other’s homes if something is needed? Are you OK with this? What happens if one parent is with a new partner?

  • What are one parent decisions and what are two parent decisions?

It can save a lot of difficult conversations for separated parents if you are both clear on what decisions can be made by one parent and what decisions need both parents to agree. On a day to day basis many parenting decisions are delegated to the parent the children are with. It would be impractical to have to get together to decide whether your children have cereal or toast in the morning; whether they can watch an hour of TV before bed; whether a minor cut on a knee needs a plaster or not. Equally there are decisions that most parents would wish to decide on together such as what school their children go to; whether they should have a major operation; or at what point they should be allowed to go out on their own without an adult with them.

Separating and separated parents can find that they either choose not to communicate with each other, or that their communication is ineffective or sometimes can inflame an already tense situation. It can therefore be a defensive mechanism to seek to avoid controversial subjects. But by not talking about what should be joint parental decisions you can inadvertently run into trouble when you make a decision that the other parent feels should have been a joint decision.

Whilst it can be a difficult conversation to have, knowing what decisions you each feel are joint decisions can save you difficulties in the future. If you’re not sure about having those kinds of conversations then it can help to have them in family mediation where a mediator can help to keep you on track and to focus you on your children if you’re going off at a tangent into other issues.

Do the holidays stay the same?

If you have children who are of school age then it cannot escape your notice that they have a lot of holiday!  As a general rule children get more than twice the average employed adult’s annual leave allowance in holidays.  Managing the school holidays can therefore be a difficult issue for parents regardless of whether they are separated or not.

For separated parents it can be helpful to give some thought to whether you will keep to the same routine during the school holidays with regard to when children are with mum and when they’re with dad, or whether you will change the routine in the holidays: for example to blocks of time with each parent?  Sometimes parents chose a combination of this – sticking to the same routine when neither are on holiday but each parent has a holiday with the children which is a block of time.

Again it doesn’t matter what arrangements you put in place as long as they work for you and your children. But it is helpful to think about how you will manage the holidays and how much time from your annual leave allowance each parent will spend with the children. Maybe you think all your annual leave should be spent with your children? Or maybe you each feel that as separated parents you need a break and you will each take up to a week (or two) of your leave as time for yourself to recharge your batteries and not spend this with your children?  Explore what feels right to both of you and be creative. You do not have to follow what anybody else has done!

Other blogs you may find useful:

A simple way to think about co-parenting
Arranging the summer holiday: why start now?

Stay tuned to this series of blogs being published every Monday as we’ll be covering other ideas to help you manage your divorce. If you’d like to get these blogs and other resources directly into your inbox then join our free mailing list. We also have a separate mailing list for professionals working with separating couples which includes details of our forthcoming training workshops and networking events.

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