Third Judicial District Court
Successful Time-Sharing – Rules of Thumb
The most important things to keep in mind when establishing a time sharing plan is maintaining the relationship between the children and the parent.
After separation, access by both parents is limited by many factors. Each parent will want to spend the available time as productively as possible. The following “rules of thumb” may be helpful in planning positive contacts.
Quiet at-home times should continue during time-sharing to help the child understand that the family life they have been familiar with won’t change totally. Activities are fun, but a continuous series of special events can actually strain the parent-child relationship. Children may learn to expect something unique each time and be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. This can leave a parent feeling resentful and unappreciated.
If time is limited with the children, they need to feel they are the focus of the parent’s attention during time-sharing. Involving other people regularly may make the children feel unimportant. They may resent new people being involved and may see them as intruders, especially in the early stages of separation.
Time spent with each parent is a right not a privilege. Children need permission to love both parents and feel reassured that they are also loved. If either parent is withholding or interfering with the relationship, this should be addressed between the parents with a neutral third party. Contact with both parents should be consistent and predictable, yet flexible to meet the needs of each child. A calender is helpful with color-coding for mom’s house/dad’s house times for contact marked.
Children have a right to be out of the middle of their parent’s disagreements. Parents should not use the child as a go between, messenger, or to report back on the parent’s activities. If a schedule change is necessary, it s important to keep the children out of the middle by the parents communicating directly or through a neutral third party, not through the children. Children should be free from listening to or being a part of parental battles. Parents should avoid conflicts, lengthy discussions, and put downs during transition times.
Children are severely stressed by witnessing parental conflict. When issues needs to be discussed, either arrange a meeting at a neutral location or a telephone call. Children are also distressed by overhearing telephone battles. Hearing one parent criticize the other or being asked about the other parent’s activities is painful for children. It will eventually destroy the relationship with the parent who is criticizing and asking.
Parents should remember that we teach our children that they are like their parents. It may be said your child looks like or acts like the other parent. The children do not need to understand genetics to realize that are like their parents. If a parent is saying he/she does not like the other parent or the other parent is bad, the parent is also saying to the child that the part of the child that came from the other parent is unacceptable. Children incorporate that into their own self concept. Parents need to encourage a positive self image and avoid being negative about the other parent.
It is helpful for the children to be ready at appointed transition times, for parents to prompt, and to avoid meal and bed times for transitions. If there is a delay, be courteous by calling the other parent.
Children may say they do not want to go to the other parent’s home. This usually means the child feels caught in the middle of a parental dispute. They may believe that if they say they want to go see the other parent, they are betraying the parent they are with at the time. When a parent hears a child say “I like it here best, I don’t want to go see mom/dad”, the parent should respond by saying that “mom will always love you and dad will always love you and you don’t have to choose.” When a child has permission to go to both homes, transitions and time-sharing will be easier.
When a child comes home from the other parent’s home and says he/she had a good time. The parent should respond with “I’m glad”. They should not respond by saying “How could you possibly have a good time with that jerk”. Children need to know it’s OK to have a good time and be comfortable in both homes. If those statements are made, apologize to your children and try not to let it happen again.
Problems in behavior may occur if a parenting plan has been developed that doesn’t fit with the developmental needs of the child. Minor adjustment problems are fairly typical, but generally are less within four to six weeks. Ongoing or long term behavior problems such as tantrums, excessive clinging, problems sleeping, nightmares, etc., should result in the parents reviewing the time-sharing plan with someone who understands child development and can help assess hot to make changes that will meet the needs of the child.
Children will feel more comfortable if called at times other than meal times or late at night. Try to remember that children will often forget to call, but that does not mean they do not love the parent or that the other parentis preventing them from calling.
If you need to get even with the other parent, the best way is to move forward with your life and do not react when the other parent pushes your buttons. Make you home a pleasant place that your children love to be.
20 Tips To Help Children Cope
- Tell the children that the divorce is the parent’s decision.
- Explain that the divorce is not the child’s fault.
- If true, say everything was done to keep the family/relationship.
- Tell the children the decision to divorce will not change (don’t give false hope)
- Be open to answer your child’s questions, but don’t assume that if they don’t ask everything is OK.
- Be prepared to repeat explanations to the children many times.
- Reassure the children that their needs will be met.
- Explain the time-sharing plan.
- Avoid major moves until the children adjust.
- Reassure the children that both parent’s love them.
- If a parent is not involved, try to find a person to help fill the gap.
- Try to spend individual time with each child.
- Avoid using the child as a messenger or spy to get even with the other parent.
- Do not force or ask the child to take sides. Don’t bad mouth the other parent.
- Remember birthdays/holidays. Preserve some traditions and start new ones.
- Attend special activities in which your child is a participant.
- Keep promises.
- Don’t make your child your confidant.
- Maintain discipline. Love your children, but set reasonable limits.
- Develop a plan to resolve conflict with the other parent.