All families are unique and children will have their own set of experiences at the point in time at which their parents may separate. Children can cope and manage through a separation when their parents work harmoniously together to support their welfare and wellbeing and are able to understand what they need at each age and stage of their development. Following is a general guide for what children need and should be interpreted in conjunction with the historical context of your family experience to that point
Baby – 18 months:
Generally children at this age thrive being in the primary care of one parent, being the parent who to this point has spent the most consistent time caring for the child. These children need to feel the comfort, safety and security of the continuous presence of one person. They generally do not cope well with long periods including overnights away from this carer. For the other parent it is important for the child’s development that they provide a regular and consistent presence in the child’s life short but frequent contact time.
18 months – 3 years:
As the child develops they will become more adaptable, confident and independent and be able to manage longer periods of time away from the primary carer. This may start with 2-4 hours away building up to full days over time. Overnights at this stage may result in stress and tears and caution would be advised in pushing a child too hard too early to comply with nights away from their primary carer.
3 years to 5 years:
By this stage a child may be able to manage quite well with an overnight contact arrangement building to a weekend, long weekend and more time as appropriate. As always children will generally feel more comfortable with regular stable arrangements that are consistent and do not deviate too frequently from a set pattern.
5 years to 8 years:
Children of this age still need a primary base but may be able to manage a 50/50 type care arrangement. This could be a week about arrangement or a part of the week with each parent. It will always be important for parents to gauge how their children are coping with the arrangements and pull back if a child is clearly stressed or unhappy but also be supportive and encouraging if a child wants to spend more time with the other parent and it is safe and appropriate.
Moving into the Teenage Years:
As children move into the teenage years, undoubtedly they will probably have some ideas of their own about how they spend time with their parents. Many will also have started to develop a friendship/social network that prioritises friends above family!! It is still important for children to spend time with both parents but parents may need to be increasingly flexible as their children also move into part time jobs and may need to focus more on their studies etc.
As with all contact arrangements their success will depend on how focussed and committed parents are to supportive relationships between both parents and their children and acknowledge that successful arrangements will be a balance of regular commitments and flexibility. The history of contact will also play a factor in what is appropriate and how arrangements develop.
If you or someone you know needs help to navigate through family mediation or would like more information please contact Latoya Percival or Anna Oxford via our website www.xpmediators.com