Family Law

Parenting in Separated Families

Parenting as part of a separated family is one of the most challenging things you can do. Your relationship with your ex-partner ended because it wasn’t working, and now you still are forced to keep ‘working’ with this person as a co-parent, for many years to come.

If your separation has been difficult or hostile, this will make parenting after separation harder again.

Here are some tips for parenting in separated families, from someone who has first-hand experience with this situation.

Tips for Parenting in Separated Families

Court orders and parenting plans

Whether you are following court orders or parenting plans, life always has something to throw at you to mess with the regular care arrangements for your children. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t know what is around the next corner, and you always have to be willing to adapt.

A Parenting Plan will enable you to maintain some flexibility to enable you to adapt to the changing needs of a child.  This can be formally written or a verbal arrangement.  A written agreement is usually best, so everyone knows and understands the expectations and their responsibilities.

Being organised, but also being flexible about changing your arrangements as needed, are key to co-parenting children when separated.

When co-parenting doesn’t work, your kids will be the most affected. It impacts their daily lives, as well as their mental and emotional stability and their sense of security within the family unit and more generally in their world. In those circumstances, or where there is no ability to co-parent or communicate, a Court order (whether made by consent or by a Judge) may be more appropriate for a family.

The key is to keep as calm and consistent as you possibly can, and when conflicts arise, try to handle them as best you can. Keep the child’s wellbeing in mind and maintain your focus on resolving any problems – this isn’t about you.

Maintain a civil relationship (as much as possible)

It can be a challenge (and with some ex-partners can be downright impossible), but maintaining a civil relationship and open communication lines for parenting needs should be one of your first goals. This makes it easier for everyone, especially the kids.

How you and your ex treat each other will model how your children should treat their partners and others as they grow up.

It may help to think of the co-parenting relationship as an entirely new relationship, and remove (or at least quarantine) your past feelings for and experiences with this person from the situation relating to your kids. Think of it more as a working relationship, with a colleague – it just needs to work.

Choose a method of communication – written is good, such as email or text only – and then keep all of your plans and changes on this one line of exchange. This gives you a reference point when disputes arise about what was organised. 

There are also some Apps that enable parents to communicate effectively and helps with consistent scheduling of weekends, school holidays, or special occasions so parents can make plans around when children are in their respective care.

It also helps if you have an open, up-to-date, written form of communication with your ex so you aren’t passing messages through your children.  This should be avoided at all cost.

You may have all sorts of feelings about the separation, and they may continue as you have to keep dealing with your ex. It helps to not vent these feelings to your children, or even to your ex when you are communicating with them, but to have a trusted third party like a friend or counsellor that you can talk to.

Maintain consistency

As parents, it will help your children if you can give them as much consistency in their lives as possible. With an ex-partner, parenting is about more than just who has care at any point in time and when handovers happen. 

Parenting plans enable you to expand your agreement to include:

  • schedules and routines such as bedtime, baths, meals etc.
  • medical needs
  • commitment to sporting and other extracurricular activities
  • rules about friends, screen time, homework etc.
  • discipline including how breaches of the rules are applied.

It will also help to double up on your child’s items at both houses, so they don’t have to frequently pack everything, especially if your shared care involves a lot of changeovers. Make sure your child has things like toys, toothbrushes, clothes, pajamas, shoes etc. at both homes.

Prepare a care calendar

Prepare a calendar of the year ahead where each parent, grandparent or any other proposed carer is expected to have the children. 

The calendar can always be varied but goes a long way to avoiding confusion particularly in families where communication is a problem.

The care calendar should not only cover who has the child and when and how exactly the handovers will take place, but it could also include:

  • who is responsible for uniforms, lunches and anything else your child needs that day
  • who will be paying for your child’s needs for that day or event.

If a yearly calendar is too difficult, look at doing one per term (including a school term holiday period).

A month to month page is handy and you can highlight contact arrangements: perhaps a proposed holiday or when the children will see extended family or have major events on, which sees one parent’s contact temporarily suspended.  With most parents storing all of their information on their phones, apps are often best way to go.

State clearly when the alternate weekend arrangement is to start again, if it’s fortnightly.

Allow for birthdays, the start of the school year, events and extracurricular activities

Think about the birthdays and major events that may affect your child in the coming year. 

It could be the first day of school, a birthday or a Communion or Confirmation or perhaps an extended school camp. Plan ahead so that your children don’t face anxiety about possible parental conflict or worse still, are confronted with the conflict at the event.

Which partner your child is with at the end of the holidays can confuse when it comes to who organises the uniforms, shoes, or books and stationery for the new school year. it can also confuse some as to when the term arrangements recommence. Outline your proposals for who pays what in advance to help prevent arguments.

Extracurricular activities are another potential source of dispute. When are training, matches or competitions scheduled? If your child has moved up an age group it may affect any alternative extracurricular activity. Discuss who will pay any fees as soon as possible.

Resources that may help

  • Coparently
  • Our Family Wizard
  • We Parent
  • Cozi
  • Custody Connection
  • AppClose

For more information about the features of the apps, see here.

Parenting in Separated Families: Flexibility and communication make it work

One of the best perspectives to take when parenting in separated families is that you are sharing your child, not dividing them. 

When you have handovers, try to think of it as giving your child for their special time with their other parent, not having your child taken from you against your wishes or will.