Arrangements for children - what works

You will find there is a vast amount of advice available to you about your children. We can advise you what arrangements seem to work best in our experience.

We think the arrangements generally work best if:

  • Everyone signs up the idea of being ‘a successfully separated family’: in successfully separated families each parent makes sure spending time with the other parent works from the child’s point of view and tries to maintain a good working relationship with the other parent.
  • No one uses the children to settle old scores or as a way of expressing bitterness.
  • There are clear and detailed arrangements that cover
  • term time weekdays
  • term time weekends
  • half term holidays and in-service days
  • Christmas and Easter holidays
  • summer holidays
  • birthdays
  • other annual events such as Mothers Day and Fathers Day
  • indirect time:such as phone calls.
  • Arrangements progress and change as the child matures.
  • Mothers ‘let go’ of their children and trust father to deal sensibly with any distress the child shows: some level of distress may be perfectly normal and is likely to be short-lived.
  • Both parents trust the other to parent their child appropriately, even if not exactly as they would do.
  • Both parents are absolutely punctual, polite and respectful at all times.
  • Both parents speak well of the other in front of the children and, regardless of whatever they really feel, they say nothing negative about the other in earshot of the child.
  • Each parent lets the child know they genuinely wish them to enjoy their time with the other parent and to come home and talk about it.
  • The parents support each other in their new roles which are new to each of them and make allowances and show patience when they think the other is getting it wrong.
  • Both parents maintain a close relationship with their child's school; but do you attend parents evenings together or not?

Ideally, parents should show a measure of flexibility when unforeseen circumstances for example, a traffic problem or ill health or a one-off event for example, a family celebration. This will mean one parent needs to ask the other to change the established arrangement. Agreeing to this, even at short notice, is in the spirit of ‘give and take’ and of course ‘works both ways’. What is usually best avoided is where flexibility becomes the norm and the underlying arrangement becomes lost.

When arrangements break down it is often because the handover goes wrong. We repeat our advice: both parents need to be absolutely punctual, polite and respectful at all times. If you wish to discuss maintenance or some other issue, it is far better not to do it at the handover; perhaps have a weekly phone call with the other parent - just about the children.

Sometimes the principle 'less is more' can apply: does a child who lives with one parent need a daily phone call with the other parent? Some might, but usually two or at most, three phone calls a week might be a more positive and newsworthy experience for parent and child.

Children usually find it easier if their are some common ground rules that apply in both households, for example, in relation to bed-times. Parents find things go better if they are clear with each other on topics such as - who will organise routine medical and dental appointments; what clothes and toys are to pass between the two homes; who is to organise / pay for out of school activities and clubs; what can be agreed about pocket money and presents; how to deal with new partners?

It is rarely a good idea for parents to try and hold a conversation about their children as part of a handover. Far better to have a regular weekly or monthly telephone discussion when the children are in bed. Some couples find it helpful to have an annual meeting to discuss the children in August so as to review arrangements and implement any agreed changes at the start of the new the school year.

We like to help families make a success of the arrangements for their children – it can be a WIN WIN WIN situation for mother, father and, most of all, the child. We are highly experienced at dealing with children matters, including those with complex and difficult issues: Elizabeth McCallum represented the successful appellant father in the case of Re W [2012] EWCA 999 in the Court of Appeal; a significant authority on contact between children and a parent.