Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: How to Set Up a Temporary Visitation Schedule
Ultimately when people divorce, at some point they will be living in separate residences. This can happen at various different times in the divorce process. It can happen early on because one person moves out or because a judge directs one person to move out. It can also happen later because people decide it is for the best.
When people separate amicably, this is usually a low-conflict circumstance. When people leave out of anger, frustration, or after a physical confrontation, it is a high-conflict circumstance.
At various steps in the divorce process, decisions have to be made as to how, in the short term, children will see both of their parents. Initially, it can be a difficult task, simply because the parents have never contemplated such a split before. Sometimes, one parent does not trust the other parent to manage the children. So, how do parents start dividing the time? For some people it is easy. They have a discussion and agree to divide the time with practical concerns in mind, such as availability or work schedules. For others it's an ongoing battle.
Assuming that your conflict isn't so out of control that you can't agree that both parents should participate in raising the children, here are some things to think about.
Contact with Both Parents Is Best
In the short term, it is better to give children as much contact as possible with both parents than it is to move right to a rigid visitation schedule. I've heard people respond to this with "But children need structure." Yes, children do need structure, but structure is not as important as maintaining a child's sense of security and reinforcing the belief that even though parents do not live with one another, contact with both parents should be positive and frequent, especially in the initial stages of separation.
The best circumstance I have seen in the short run—between lowconflict, cooperative parents—is where one parent has moved out of the main residence and is allowed to return to help the children with homework or tuck them into bed. This type of familiar contact usually keeps children from going into an immediate panic and can help get them used to a second residence when they start to visit. If a parent can spend some time in the children's main residence as well as having the children spend some time in that parent's new residence, this presents less of a contrast or change in the children's lives and becomes an easier adjustment. This is especially so with children under ten years old.
Immediately after a separation, whenever possible, both parents should try to involve themselves (in a civilized manner) in the children's after-school activities. Children worry that they will be embarrassed by their parents' behavior at sports events, recitals, and dance lessons. Show them from the beginning that they can feel comfortable with both parents attending.
If you are a parent who has not involved yourself in your children's after-school activities, start now—just do not make a scene. If you and the co-parent cannot achieve a civilized co-attendance at your children's activities, divide the time and go alone, but understand that this is not the best circumstance for your children.
Splitting the weekend time is important on a permanent and temporary basis, especially considering the number of two-parent working families. Being a "weekend-only" parent is often not helpful to your relationship with your child or to the co-parent. Both parents should participate in quality parenting time, as well as divide the parenting chores that involve being a chauffeur service, an ATM machine, a coach, and all of the other difficult but necessary facets of parenting.
Some parents divide weekend time by assigning Saturdays to one parent and Sundays to another parent. Sometimes practical aspects such as work schedules dictate that this is the best way to do it, but in most cases it is not practical. Weekend visitation gives one parent an opportunity to involve himself or herself in a block of parenting time that includes bedtime rituals, meals, social activities, and playdates. It also gives the other parent time to catch up on some of the important personal chores that do not involve the children.
On temporary and permanent bases, and for reasons I cannot understand, parents will sometimes abdicate the care of children to babysitters as opposed to the other parent. Sometimes parents do not want to admit that they are not spending their allotted time with the children. Children do tend to report when they are with sitters, so this strategy usually creates more problems than it solves. If you need time alone, you should ask the co-parent to babysit first.
Positive co-parenting requires that you place your needs, desires, and feelings aside and concentrate on your children's needs, desires, and feelings. You might be perfectly happy if you never saw the coparent again, but always keep in mind that except under rare circumstances, your children probably don't feel the same way.
- Being the custodial parent doesn't give you the right to make decisions that disrupt the co-parent's schedule. Consider the times that your co-parent has visitation to be unchangeable in any way until the co-parent approves.
- Whenever possible, parents should have weekday as well as weekend time with their kids.
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