About living arrangements – shared parenting or other solutions?
One of the most common questions parents ask themselves during a separation is where their child should live. How will the relationships look like and how can they continue to be parents? Several factors can influence what is suitable. For some, alternating living arrangements is the best solution for some children while others need to stay more with one parent. There is important information to consider in order to make informed decisions regarding the child’s living arrangements.
A summary of this article below.
General starting points
Splitting up your child’s living arrangements should feel smooth and fair, and give your child what he or she needs. The deciding factor when you plan is your ability to create a daily life with your child. Is your child very reliant on their dad and need close contact? Does your teenager have a lot going on and need two parents keeping an eye on them? Other factors that play a role are where you live, your work hours, your finances, your health, and your ability to care for your child, as well as your commitment as parents. All decisions about where your child will live should be made based on your child’s best interests, taking into consideration your circumstances.
It is more important that your child feels comfortable with their living situation than it is for it to feel fair for you as parents.Malin Bergström, child psychologist and researcher
Who decide the child’s residence?
Most parents have joint custody of their child. This means that they make joint decisions regarding the child’s residence and other important matters. If one parent is the custodian, they have sole decision-making authority over the residence. Regardless of the custody arrangement, it is important to have an open dialogue and work for a good cooperation within the coparenting team.
Shared parenting or alternating residence
Alternating residence means that the child has two homes and lives approximately the same amount of time with both parents. Research studies on the health and wellbeing of children after a separation show that everyday contact with both parents suits many children. Studies have shown that children from approximately three years of age generally fare well in alternating residence (reliable studies are lacking for younger children).
It does not mean, however, that alternating residence suits your specific child and family. Different residence forms can also suit different periods of time. When we think of alternating residence, we often think of every other week and for many children (and parents) such a rhythm works. It means an even (fair) distribution of time and is easy to keep track of. But the schedule can look however you like, so base it on what suits you and the children when you plan.
Different amounts of time for the alternating custody arrangement
The shared living arrangement can be set up in various ways in terms of time, for example, with 7+7 days alternating each week. Other families have shorter intervals, such as 2+2+3+3 days, if one full week of staying with the other parent is too long for some children.
For children who struggle with transitions, longer periods may be preferable, while frequent changes may work better for those who crave change. It’s common for young children to move often, several times a week, school-aged children every week, and teenagers staying in fourteen-day periods. Encourage your children to adjust and embrace the change!
If possible live close to each other
It can be difficult to find good accommodations close to each other when separating. However, some parents may miss their children’s needs when they look for housing and intentionally move a great distance away from each other. It is understandable to need physical distance as an adult, but for the child, it can bring great difficulties. If the distance is too far, there is a great risk that the child will become tired of all the traveling and will be forced to live with only one parent. This is rarely good for children who want to live with both parents.
Try to arrange new homes in the same neighbourhood, on the same bus line or at least the same municipality. This way, the child can travel between their two homes and continue living their life without too much effort. It will also be easier for you parents when the child can move around safely on their own without you having to drive them all the time. Think of the child as a whole!
A “booster” can help you coping with longing
For children who live with each parent every other week, an extra day, a “booster” in the middle of the other week, can make the child (and the parents) long for each other less. The child can also have fixed days which makes it easier for you parents to take responsibility for training and other activities.
Alternate residence does not necessarily mean that your children stay exactly the same amount of time with both of you. Adapting the schedule to the school route, activities and your work hours can facilitate daily life for everyone. If the child needs to stay mostly in one home, a long weekend can be supplemented with one or two evenings a week with the other parent. If it is impractical or emotionally difficult to sleep in both homes, you can still help each other by picking up, doing homework, accompanying on leisure activities, or having dinner together.
When the child live only with one parent and has regular contact with the other
Sometimes it’s best for the child to live with one of you. If the child lives less than a third of the time, it’s more about contact than shared parenting. The child may be better off with a fixed point and fewer transitions. The adults may live far from each other so it wouldn’t be reasonable for the child to take on the responsibility of travelling long distances every day.
For many who have children full-time, the division of responsibility is an extension of how it was when they lived together. The advantages are that life becomes predictable and you don’t have to compromise or miss out. You don’t have to deal with frustration over your coparent’s lack of engagement, and it’s up to you to create a home that is peaceful, secure and sometimes even happy.
The challenges are to have enough energy and to find social activities that work with the parenting. It may also require a great effort from the custodial parent for the child to have reasonable contact with the other parent. If you notice that the child is longing and missing the other parent, you may feel helpless and have to put effort into engaging the other parent.
Personal finances are affected
When you have full-time custody of your child, you are entitled to child support from the other parent. But your finances are not only affected by the expenses for the child. Your job is affected when you have to take care of all the days of childcare leave, and adjust your working hours according to the child’s needs.
As a single parent, it’s important that childcare, school and extracurricular activities work both for you and the child. Feel free to involve your network of family and friends to get some breathing space in your schedule, relieve some of the pressure and get some company. Remember that other important adults in the child’s life also have the right to childcare leave if they take care of the child when they are sick. It’s invaluable to help each other out, for example to pick up and accompany to extracurricular activities.
To you who is a visitation or non-custodial parent
Think about how you can arrange it so that your child can keep what you have contributed in terms of interests, relatives and family and friends. There is much to fit within the limited time you have with your child. If you can relieve the other parent, it will also benefit the child.
If it works okay without major conflicts or disagreements, it is good if you, custodial parent and non-custodial parent, both can be involved in the child. That means sharing information, attending school activities (physically or digitally) and other activities for the child.
Spending time together weekdays and weekends
No matter where your child lives, try to allocate time so that your child is with both of you during weekdays and weekends. It is tough to be solely responsible for the everyday life puzzle. Meeting the child on weekends is certainly cozy, but it does not provide any involvement in daily activities. Contact with coaches and teachers is part of parenting and as a weekend parent you may miss out on that. It also gives the child a sense of wholeness in life, where both parents feel connected to the child in all aspects of their life.
Grown-ups need to be flexible
Discussing, evaluating and following-up on living and visitation schedules may need to happen multiple times. Even if you are in general agreement on how much time is spent with each of you, you may need to be flexible at times. The child is an equally important person in the family as you adults. You need to take into account the child’s needs and longing in addition to your jobs, other commitments and practical circumstances. However, accommodating a child’s needs does not necessarily mean that they should live more with the one they long for. If you do so, the parent who is number two on the favorite list can spend a little extra time with the child after preschool or half-day on the weekend and so on. Having a good time together strengthens the relationship and reduces the inequality.
- When it comes to the question of where the child should live, the child’s needs come first, not the fairness between the parents.
- Many children benefit from alternating living arrangements and spending time with both of their parents.
- For other children, too much transition can be stressful. In such cases, the parents must adjust the living arrangements for the child’s sake, even if it means one parent sees the child less.
- Spending quality time with the child does not necessarily mean “sleeping over” all the time. It can involve more weekends together, accompanying them to activities and the like.