Negotiating shared parenting time can be stressful, especially if you haven’t been seeing your children as often as you would like. In your eagerness to guarantee any future time with your children you may finalise an agreement with the hope to change it in the future.
It is crucial to get consent orders in place for shared parenting BUT if you agreed to the consent orders as a temporary agreement hoping you would be able to get more time in the future, you might find your ex is unwilling to change the status quo.
The first step would be to go to family dispute resolution to mediate with your coparent to negotiate more parenting time. If you don’t reach agreement you may want to go to court BUT you would have to demonstrate that there has been a significant change in circumstances that warrant such a change. This could be that your child started school, or your child is not coping with the current arrangement backed up by psychologist or school reports or they have become teenagers and started high school and therefore could have a say in their living arrangements.
So, what should you do?
At the onset of shared parenting, it may take a few adjustments for it to work for your family and most importantly your children. You may not agree on what the final shared parenting arrangements might be and therefore attend family dispute resolution mediation to help you negotiate an agreed parenting plan. It is important to include in your parenting plan a timeline of when the plan will be reviewed for change or include phased changes over time such as any combination of optional examples below;
Phase 1 - 1-2months - Lives with Parent A and spends every Saturday 9am – 5pm and every Wednesday evening dinner 4pm – 7pm and shared public holidays with Parent B.
Phase 2 - 3-4months - Lives with Parent A and stays overnight every second Saturday 4pm – Sunday 4pm, Wednesday evening dinner 4pm – 7pm, shared public holidays and half school holidays with Parent B.
Phase 3 - 5-6months – Lives with Parent A and spends every second weekend Friday 4pm – Sunday 4pm, Wednesday evening dinner 4pm – 7pm, shared public holidays and half school holidays with Parent B.
Phase 4 – 7months+ - 50/50 shared parenting – one week on/off with either parent, half of school holidays, shared public holidays
You may not want to do a phased parenting schedule and opt to include a review of the parenting plan in 6 or 12 months or when circumstances change. Once the parenting plan is finalised and working well for the children, then you can have consent orders finalised.
It is important to be realistic about what the best shared parenting might be for your children such as;
If your kids are age 0-5yrs and you weren’t hands on in their daily care pre-separation then you may not reach agreement with your coparent to have overnights until your children are more independent i.e., toilet trained, feed themselves or can verbally express their needs.
If your kids are age 0-5yrs and your kids were in childcare as both parents worked and shared parenting duties equally then you may reach agreement to have overnights as your parenting roles were interchangeable pre-separation.
If your kids are school age and you live close by, you may reach agreement with your coparent to have overnights more frequently with the possibility of shifting towards 50/50 shared parenting.
There are many parents who struggle to shift from seeing their children daily pre-separation to a reduced parenting time post separation. Parents who were not the initiators of the separation may resist losing time with their children as they really didn’t want their family structure to change and find it hard to accept the loss of time with their children on top of the loss of relationship, loss of financial stability and loss of their family home. This can make them appear uncooperative, inflexible and resistant to shared parenting. They may also want to punish the ex for leaving by resisting shared parenting.
As the parent grieving the loss, it is important to ensure the children understand that the parent that initiated separation is NOT leaving the children but leaving the adult relationship. The children still need to have a meaningful relationship with each parent and it is important both parents separate how they feel about the breakup and focus on the best interests of the children. Your children will follow your lead, if you are angry, sad and resentful then the children will be angry, sad and resentful. If you as parents are helping the family adjust and transition to the new family structure positively, ensuring the children thrive in two loving homes, this will reduce anxiety, stress and fear for the children which will help them adjust quicker.
As separated parents, you do not have rights to your children, your children have rights to a meaningful relationship with both parents.
Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Parenting Coordinator