Parenting arrangements should always prioritise the best interests of your children. However, this can sometimes seem easier said than done, especially when your children are still quite young and going through a lot of developmental changes over the next few years.
In fact, social science studies show that children who are in the 0 to 5-year old age bracket need stability, routine and consistency to thrive and meet all their developmental milestones.
This is the reason why separation from either parent can be a difficult adjustment for children, especially around these ages. Due to their young age, they may end up just staying with only one parent or spending alternate time with you and your former partner or spouse.
Because of this, it’s necessary to understand the impact of the new family dynamic to your children’s emotional and psychological health. This way, you can build the right parenting arrangements to suit younger children.
What are the right parenting arrangements for overnight stays?
Family law does not state a specific age when your child should commence staying overnight with a particular parent. You may have decided, for stability, that your child remains with you while they’re very young.
So, how do you know if your child is ready to spend time and bond with your former partner or spouse?
Most likely, it will be dependent on your child’s coping ability to be separated from you (assuming you’re the primary parent) and their common environment.
To help determine whether it’s fine for your child to spend overnight time away from you, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is my child breastfed?
Generally, if a child is still breastfeeding, it’s safe to assume he or she is likely too young to spend overnights away from their mother. Nevertheless, arrangements can be made to make this possible, such as the mother expressing and storing breastmilk to bottle feed the child during the time they are away from each other.
In all cases, consider what’s best for your child and make parenting arrangements that will allow him or her to spend meaningful time with the non-primary parent, while still allowing them to be breastfed.
How much time does my child spend away from me (their primary parent)?
If your child is spending 5 days a week in day-care or in the care of a person that is not biologically related to them, then it is likely he or she is used to spending time away from you (considering that you are the primary parent).
It means, your child should be able to transition to overnight stays with their other parent without too much difficulty.
What is my child’s routine when they are with their other parent?
To give your child the best chance of coping well with overnight time, both you and the other parent should be willing to maintain consistency and routine between households.
Communication is key here. While it’s not easy for separated parents to agree on issues such as nap times and a feeding schedule, it is still achievable through the help of methods such as email and texts or other communication apps that are available for separated parents.
Am I available to care for my child during their overnight stay?
The Family Law Courts like to see that the parents are caring for the child overnight.
It is because newborns and toddlers require 24-hour care. This is not to say that you cannot leave your child with a trusted friend or relative, but you have to remember that there is no substitute for the care of the biological parent.
What are the best parenting arrangements for the 0 to 4-year age group, then?
Newborns and toddlers should spend short and regular time with the other parent. The reason for this is that having bonding moments and gaining familiarity with the other parent will help your child not to get stressed when he or she is away from you as the primary parent.
Here’s an example of a parenting arrangement appropriate for a young child.
The child lives with one parent and spends time with the other parent each Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 9am to 11am.
Around 3 to 4 years of age, children start to become more resilient and aware of their primary attachments. Obviously, the times and days provided in the example above can be adjusted as the child continues to grow and their needs begin to evolve.
For instance, if we build on the previous example, a suitable parenting arrangement schedule for the child to spend time with the other parent (not the parent they primarily live with) may look like this:
Upon the child turning 1 year old:
(a) Each week on Monday and Wednesday from 9am to 1pm; and
(b) Each weekend on Saturday from 9am to 5pm.
Upon the child turning 18 months old:
(a) Each week on Monday and Wednesday from 9am to 5pm; and
(b) Each weekend on Saturday from 9am to 5pm.
Upon the child turning 2 ½ years old:
(a) Each week on Monday from 9am to 5pm; and
(b) Each alternate weekend on Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm each day.
Upon the child turning 3 years old:
(a) Each week on Monday and Wednesday from after day-care or 3pm to 6pm; and
(b) Each alternate weekend from 5pm Friday to 5pm Saturday.
Upon the child turning 4 years old:
(a) Each week from after day-care or 3pm Monday to 9am Tuesday; and
(b) Each alternate weekend from 5pm Friday to 5pm Sunday..
Upon the child commencing Kindergarten or Prep:
(a) Each alternate weekend from after-school Friday to before-school Monday; and
(b) Each alternate week from after-school Wednesday to before-school Thursday.
As you see, this schedule allows for the gradual progression of time appropriate with a child’s age and stage of development.
However, this is a general guide only. Every family is unique and has different factors that are relevant and ought be taken into account. You need to consider what arrangement would be most appropriate and in the best interests of your child based on your individual circumstances. In your specific case, you may modify the days and times for each stage to suit your child’s needs and routine and both parents’ individual schedules.
Your separation or divorce with your child’s other parent can be traumatic for him or her, especially during their development stage. To reduce this, it’s important for you and your former partner to come up with the appropriate parenting arrangements that will accommodate your child’s welfare. By working together, you can tailor a set-up that will make it easy for your child to adjust and cope with spending time with both parents separately.
If in doubt, seek legal advice about your parenting arrangements.
Refer to the panel of lawyers on our website who are our trusted partners and can give you the advice you need.