No matter what’s going on between you and your child’s other parent, it’s important to put your child’s interests first. What’s best for them should be at the heart of your decisions.
Children have a right to a relationship with both their parents (unless this puts their safety or wellbeing at risk). So it’s important to listen to what your child wants, and put their needs at the heart of your decisions.
In some families, the child spends a lot of time and stays overnight with both parents. This is called shared residence or shared care. For this to work well, you and the other parent will need to be able to communicate well about day-to-day issues and be flexible.
What’s best for children
Where both parents want to be involved in the child’s life and it’s safe for the child, it usually works best when:
- Both parents play a role in bringing them up
- Each parent does all they can to make sure their child has a good relationship with their other parent
- Children are clear about arrangements for spending time with each parent, and things don’t change suddenly unless it’s unavoidable
- They’re not exposed to conflict, which is distressing and harmful for them
- Both parents make sure their child stays in touch with important people, like relatives and close family friends
- New partners support the arrangements you’ve made and have a good relationship with your child
- You can communicate well with your child and their other parent, and are focused on what’s in the child’s best interests
Communicating well with children
Here are some things you can do to make the process of change and separation easier for your child.
Your child might be worrying about things that you haven’t even thought about. And children often blame themselves for their parents’ separation. Explain that it’s not their fault and reassure them regularly. This is particularly important for younger children.
Keep them informed
You may feel you’re protecting your child by not telling them what’s going on, but you could be doing the opposite. They may not know what’s going on, so explain things gently and give them time to adjust. Children want to be involved and listened to. But don’t expect them to make final decisions – this is too much pressure.
Don’t fight in front of them
Try not to argue within earshot of your child, even on the phone. It’s hurtful and distressing for them.
Protecting your child’s safety
Whatever arrangements you make must be safe for you and your child.
Sometimes it’s just not safe or appropriate for children to see their other parent. For example, where the other parent is violent or abusive, or not capable of looking after a child on their own. The safest and best option might be no contact at all between your child and their other parent. Or, you may want to avoid face-to-face contact and agree they can communicate online, by email or over the phone.
Another option might be to make sure their time together is supervised. This could mean arranging for a family member or friend to be there at all times. Or it could mean using a contact centre – a place where parents can see their children with staff there to supervise. You can read more and find contact centres near you through the National Association of Child Contact Centres.
If there’s any risk of violence or abusive or inappropriate behaviour when your child has contact with their other parent, you may need legal help when making arrangements. You could apply to the court for a child arrangement order – you can get family law advice from Rights of Women. See our getting legal help page for more.
If you’re concerned for the safety of your child, get help and advice as soon as you can. This may be the police, social services or the NSPCC.