Two Parents, Two Homes
Most children want contact with both their parents and to carry on seeing both of them as part of their family. Keeping in contact with the parent who has left home reassures a child that, although life will be different, they are not losing one of their parents.
The pain of separation and change can be worse if they also lose touch with others they are close to. So keeping in touch with other family members (who may also be able to offer extra support) can help a child adjust to new family arrangements.
It's the quality of parenting during contact time that matters most, not the amount of contact. Effective parenting - showing an interest, encouragement, love and warmth - is what counts.
There are situations, however, where contact may be damaging. For example, where there is no previous relationship or where there are known risks of abuse or neglect, domestic violence, or extreme conflict between the parents.
What children think about contact
Both parents need to agree contact arrangements, but these need to take account of changing circumstances as children grow older. Younger children benefit from frequent and regular contact, but older children prefer parents to be flexible, as they have their own social activities and friends to make time for.
Research into how children feel about contact shows that:
- Most children want contact.
- Most children see the parent who has left home as important and still part of their family.
- Losing touch is painful and, even where there is contact, some children want more.
- Children within the same family may feel differently about the same arrangements.
- Children are more likely to feel happier with arrangements if they are involved in decisions and feel they can talk to a parent about problems.
- Children need to feel that their views about contact are taken into account.
- Children usually enjoy contact, but it can cause distress - a common problem is when parents don't turn up as arranged.
Other problems for children include feeling torn between parents, seeing parents argue, harassment or abuse, being used as a go-between, relationships with a parent's new partner, missing the resident parent, boredom, and having to move between two homes.
Some children will fight against contact - they may feel too upset, angry and confused for a while. This is likely to be temporary.
What arrangements should be made?
There's no one way of arranging contact to suit all children and parents.
Some parents share care, where a child spends, say, 30 to 50% of their time with one parent and the rest with the other. Sometimes, contact is every other weekend, holidays only, or day visits.
Arrangements will depend on their own personal circumstances - the distance between their homes, suitable accommodation, any financial constraints, and working patterns. What the child wants and their age and maturity will all need to be considered.
Adults' and children's needs change as circumstances change. So you may have to review contact arrangements to fit in with, for example, moving house, changing school, a new job, new partners, and the arrival of new babies.
If you need help arranging contact
If you find you need help deciding on contact issues and other aspects of your separation, family mediation could help you to exchange information, ideas and feelings constructively. You would remain responsible for all decisions.