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Should I let the kids decide when they want to see each parent?

Many parents find that the hardest challenge during separation is agreeing to a shared parenting schedule. After being with the children every day of their lives, it is a big adjustment to shift to seeing them on a part time basis. The children also find it disruptive to adjust to the new family structure too.

Most parents will work out a schedule together that works for their family. This may be done amicably with the children’s best interests as the priority or via mediation to negotiate an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached then they can go through the court system which is very costly emotionally, financially and can drag out for over 12months to finalise.

Some parents question whether it is best to let the kids decide when they want to go to each parent’s house without an agreement in place. If the kids feel like being with mum, they go to mum’s place or if they feel like being with Dad they will go to Dad’s place. This may seem like it would be less stressful for everyone involved but there are pros and cons to this decision.

Pros include;

  • There isn’t the anxiety of handovers to go to the other parent’s house knowing that they will not see the other parent for days or a whole week.

  • The children don’t have to wait until an agreed scheduled time to see the other parent when they want to be with them, they can decide to go when they want to.

  • If the children win a trophy, award or get selected for the football team, they can decide to go to the other parent’s place to celebrate the good news.

  • If the children want to go to the other parent’s place after school or sometime over the weekend they can.

  • Family events such as dad's sister's wedding or maternal grandparent's birthday can be easily attended if there is no set parenting schedule in place

Cons include;

  • Without a parenting schedule it can be difficult to plan and agree future events, unless a calendar of events is visible and maintained by everyone.

  • Parents may find it creates chaos to accommodate their child wanting to go to the other parent’s place which may not be convenient at that time. This can be exacerbated if the two homes are not close by.

  • Some children may not like too much change and opt to stay at the family home because it is familiar and gives them a feeling of being ‘home’. It may work better if both parents have both setup a new home which have no previous attachments and fond memories.

  • A parent may create a more fun, relaxed, laid-back environment which is more tempting for the children rather than the household that has structured chores and homework.

  • Child support will be difficult to estimate on how much time is spent with each parent.

Generally, a parenting schedule helps the whole family adjust to a new family structure so everyone knows where the children will be according to an agreed schedule. Enabling the child to decide where they want to be at any given time puts a lot of pressure and responsibility onto the child. The outcome of that decision may result in a parent feeling they are not getting enough time with the child. This can result in arguments with the children caught in the middle as they have been made the decision makers.

Flexibility can always be built into parenting schedules so that children can have contact with the other parent when they want to. If the children want to see the other parent, then maybe it can be arranged and agreed on a case by case basis that the other parent picks them up from school one day and spends time with them until after dinner before dropping them back to the other parent or if a parent is going to an event on their parenting time, then the other parent may be offered the option of the extra time with the kids. Children may just want to call the other parent when they want to so that they can either see them via facetime and have a chat or talk on the phone.

Enabling children access to their parents when they want to provides the children with comfort minimising anxiety about being separated from them. The only time this may create an issue is at bedtime, if the child upon talking with the other parent becomes restless and says they want to go to the other parent’s house.

Assessing all the options of shared parenting will help to create a coparenting plan which sets the ground rules and minimises conflict.

Remember, when negotiating the parenting schedule, it is important to have the best interests of the child front of mind ensuring they can maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents.

Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Author

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