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Is a Phased Parenting Schedule the right thing to do?




Many separated parents go into battle to get as much time as they can with their children, but is that in the best interests of the children?


The Family Law Act 1975 S60B (2b) outlines that children have a right to spend time on a regular basis with, and communicate on a regular basis with, both their parents and other people significant to their care, welfare and development (such as grandparents and other relatives).


So how do you interpret what ‘spend time on a regular basis’ means?


Well, it all depends on your family situation. What do I mean by that? Well, how much time was spent with each parent prior to separation, the type of relationship the child had with each parent, and how involved each parent was in the child’s daily life.


There are some key indicators of how involved a parent is in the daily life of their child in the list below;


□ Getting them up in the morning

□ Making the children breakfast

□ Packing their lunch and school bag

□ Taking them to childcare or school

□ Being with a pre-school age child throughout the day

□ Making meals for the child

□ Collecting them from childcare or school

□ Talking to them about their day

□ Helping them with homework

□ Sitting down eating meals together as a family at least 7 times a week

□ Comforting them when they are sad or hurt themselves

□ Listening to their problems and helping them resolve them

□ Taking them to medical appointments

□ Playing with them

□ Taking them to the park

□ Taking them to extra-curricular activities

□ Coaching the sports team, they are in

□ Watching them play sports

□ Attending parent/teacher nights

□ Attending school concerts or grand finals

□ Doing activities with them such as mini golf, fishing, sports game, etc

□ Bathing them when they are young

□ Changing nappies

□ Feeding them

□ Reading them stories

□ Putting them to bed

□ Getting up to them in the night when they are sick

□ Looking after them for a number of hours on your own whilst the other parent is out

□ Looking after them overnight when the other parent is away

□ Teaching them how to brush their teeth, tie their shoelaces, ride a bike etc


Let’s look at some examples of family’s pre-separation:


Family A - Parent A works in an office leaving home at 7am and getting home each night between 7pm – 8pm. Parent B stays at home taking care of two young children, ages 6 and 3. The majority of the activities in the list are done by Parent B and Parent A helps with their care on the weekend. The children have a strong attachment to Parent B as their caregiver.


Family B - Both parents work full-time, the children go to childcare, school and after school care. Both parents may share the activities to get the children off to childcare or school and once again after work share activities to cook dinner, help with homework, play or read to children and get them ready for bed. Conversely, one parent may do the morning activities to get the children off to childcare or school and the other parent may pick the kids up from after school care and start cooking dinner. Each parent actively does most of the activities on the list sharing the parenting. The children have strong attachment to both parents as caregivers as each parent can step into the care giver role daily.


Family C - Parent A works from home most days of the week as they have a flexible work schedule enabling them to get the children ready and drop off at childcare and school and collect them after school. They do most of the care giving activities until Parent B arrives home between 5:30pm - 6pm whereby they share the parenting activities with the other parent. Both parents have an active care giving role and the children have a strong attachment to both parents as caregivers.


Family D - Both parents work, Parent A full time and Parent B part-time. Parent B does the majority of the care giving role even when Parent A is home. The children go to Parent B for most of their care needs and therefore have a strong attachment to Parent B as primary caregiver. Parent B may leverage a grandparent as their backup.


There are many family scenarios. The four above a just a few examples.


So, using the four family examples above let’s hypothesise what shared parenting options post separation may help the children have a smooth transition to the new family structure.


Family A – The children have a strong attachment to Parent B as their primary caregiver, so it can be very distressing and disruptive for the children to have a 50/50 shared parenting arrangement.


Possible phased parenting schedule could be;

o First 3months - Parent A has the children every Saturday all day returning them to Parent B after dinner as well as a midweek dinner with the children. Extra day time when Parent A takes leave during school holidays or special events.

o 3-6months - Parent A has the children every Friday evening to Saturday late afternoon with a midweek dinner each week with the children. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with Parent A on the days they don’t see them physically. Extra night in school holidays and shared special events.

o 6months > Parent A has the children every second weekend Friday evening to spend the weekend with the children until Sunday evening with a midweek dinner each week with the children. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with Parent A on the days they don’t see them physically. Shared school holiday and shared special events extra overnights.


If Parent A’s work arrangement does not enable them to spend time in evenings during the week their opportunity for overnight shared parenting may continue to be limited to weekends.


Family B – The children have a strong attachment to both parents as caregivers so shared parenting is less disruptive. It may be an easier transition for young children to limit the length of nights away from each parent by having a phased schedule such as;


o First 3-6 months – Children spend overnights with each parent with a schedule 2,3,3,2. This means 2 nights with parent A, 3 nights with Parent B, 3 nights with Parent A then 2 nights with Parent B. School holidays or special events may be shared equally. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with other parent on the days they don’t see them physically. School holidays or special events shared equally. or

o First 3-6 months – Set days for children to spend overnights Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with Parent A, Saturday, Sunday and Monday with Parent B. Every second Tuesday alternate Parent A and Parent B. School holidays or special events shared equally. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with other parent on the days they don’t see them physically.

o 6 months > The schedule may switch to 7 nights a week on and week off to reduce disruption if the children have adjusted to shared parenting. If the time apart from each parent is too long impacting the children, revert back to previous schedule. School holidays or special events shared equally. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with other parent on the days they don’t see them physically.


Family C – The children have a strong attachment to Parent A as their primary caregiver, but Parent B has been an active caregiver in the evenings and weekends. Possible phased parenting schedule could be;


o 3-6 months - Parent B has the children every Thursday to Saturday overnight with children then being with Parent A Sunday morning to Thursday evening. Parent B may have dinner with the children Tuesday night. School holidays or special events shared equally. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with other parent on the days they don’t see them physically.

o 6 months > The schedule may switch to 7 nights a week on and week off once both children attend childcare/school so that Parent B on their shared parenting time can drop children at childcare/before school care on the way to work then pick them up from after school care after work. School holidays or special events shared equally. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with other parent on the days they don’t see them physically or

o 6 months > The schedule may switch to 7 nights a week on and week off whereby Parent B drops children at Parent A’s house each morning on the way to work so Parent A can take them to school/childcare and collect them after school. Parent B can collect the children from Parent A on their way home from work. School holidays or special events shared equally. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with other parent on the days they don’t see them physically. This will only work if both parents live nearby.


Family D – The children have a strong attachment to Parent B as their primary caregiver even when Parent A is home. It can be very distressing and disruptive for the children to lose access to their primary caregiver. Possible phased parenting schedule could be;


o First 3months - Parent A has the children every Saturday all day returning them to Parent B after dinner as well as a midweek dinner with the children. Extra day time when Parent A takes leave during school holidays or special events.

o 3-6months - Parent A has the children every Friday evening to Saturday late afternoon with a midweek dinner each week with the children. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with Parent A on the days they don’t see them physically. Extra night in school holidays and shared special events.

o 6months > Parent A has the children every second weekend Friday evening to spend the weekend with the children until Sunday evening with a midweek dinner each week with the children. Facetime calls each evening or every second evening after dinner with Parent A on the days they don’t see them physically. Shared school holiday and shared special events extra overnights.


The above possible shared parenting options as a phased parenting schedule over time can help your children transition and adjust gradually. The options above are just a guide to help families be child focused in their shared parenting decision making.

Separated parents should be thinking of the impacts on the children when negotiating their shared parenting. Only you as parents know your family support structure pre-separation and the relationships you have with your children. When deciding what will work for your family it is important to separate how you feel about the breakup and focus on ensuring the children are supported into a shared parenting schedule that will help them adjust. It isn’t about parental rights to have children equally as the law only recognises that children have rights to having a relationship with both parents. The parents have obligations and responsibilities to ensure the children have their needs met and have both parents in their lives.


Seek help from a Divorce Coach, Parenting Co-Ordinator or if agreement on shared parenting cannot be reached a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner who can mediate as a neural facilitator can help you reach agreement on what will work for your family.


Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Author

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