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Can children be forced to live alternately?

The question of whether it’s okay to force one’s children to live alternately is common. It shows how difficult it can be to agree when there are many wills to consider. Here you will learn more about children’s rights and how parents can think to find a living arrangement that works for everyone.

Alternating living arrangements are beneficial for many children

Research shows that many children benefit from alternating living arrangements as it provides the child with stable relationships with both parents and everyday life becomes natural with both. Children who live alternately are also particularly satisfied with their relationship with their fathers, as through alternating living, fathers take more responsibility than may have occurred previously when the parents lived together.

Two homes have specific demands

However, alternating living arrangements place specific demands on both children and parents. Communication and cooperation between parents need to be particularly good, and it’s important to live relatively close to each other to facilitate the child’s school commutes and transportation to activities. A fundamental requirement is generally that everyone, including the child, is receptive to the idea of living with both parents and having two homes.

Alternating living arrangements can take various forms

Many people think of a every other week schedule when they say ‘alternating living’. However, there are several different schedules, all of which involve the child living approximately 50/50 with both parents. For example:

2-2-3 schedule 2-2-5 schedule 7-7 schedule The intervals with each parent can also be shorter or longer, for example, 2+2 weeks instead of 1+1 week and so on. Regardless, the main idea is that the child lives equally with both parents.

Parents’ decisions about alternating living

It is the child’s custodian who decides how and where the child should live. As a parent and custodian, it is important to consider that children have the right to receive information about what is happening in their lives and why, at a level they can understand. They also have the right to express their opinions about what is happening in their lives and have the right to be listened to by their parents. Getting information and talking makes life understandable for both children and adults. For parents, conversations are an important source of information for making wise decisions that can last in the long run.

Circumstances that may affect children’s willingness to live alternately

If the child says or otherwise shows that they do not want to live alternately, it is important to try to understand what it is that makes the child feel that way. It may be about:

The child’s age or personal preferences
Young children often need close contact and then a schedule with more changes may be a solution. Other children are older but still do not want to live alternately.

Practical circumstances
Is it too far from one of the homes to, for example, school or activities that make it too difficult for the child to commute back and forth every day? Are there pets that the child does not want to leave? Does it become very stressful or are there many conflicts at home with one of the parents? Does one of the parents work a lot so the child is alone often? Other family members who may take a lot of attention?

Attachment to parent
Does the child have a particularly strong attachment to one of the parents that makes it difficult to be away from the parent for 50% of the time?

Responsible child
Is the child worried about one of the parents and has difficulty leaving because of it?

What parents can do

If parents agree that the child would be best off living alternately, it is good to talk to the child about why they think it is important to live with both. To reach a compromise that everyone can accept, you can try:

Find an alternating schedule that best meets the child’s needs. Perhaps a 2-2-3 schedule for the child who needs more frequent changes and where an every other week schedule would be too long to be away from the parents. Evaluate for a few months before any changes.

Be extra present with the child and together facilitate transitions and other challenges extra much for a while.

Try to reduce the time at one parent’s house, maybe Thursday – Sunday every other week initially (instead of Monday – Monday) and boost with a dinner on each Tuesday at the parent’s house where the child stays a little less. It can give the child a chance to get used to it and then ramp up to 7/7.

Evaluate and keep the conversation going as time passes.

Coercion rarely works in the long run

Even though research shows that children generally benefit from living alternately, there are exceptions. Parents need to be sensitive to that and try to keep the conversation going with the children. Because it’s difficult to go and pick up a reluctant 15-year-old who has decided to stay with the father regardless of what the parents have agreed on.

So acceptance is needed, rather than coercion. And that’s reasonable since it’s the children who take the lion’s share of responsibility for the alternating living arrangements as they grow up.

Elisabeth Scholander