Parenting Arrangements - Care Arrangements for Children up to School Age

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There are many other factors that should be considered when determining an arrangement that is best for your children such as parental conflict, practicality, special needs of the child including medical needs and risk factors in either parent’s household. The Family Law Act 1975 provides that children have a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents absent any risk to that child with either parent. Any arrangements should consider that child’s individual needs, their safety, and welfare.

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While some children transition well to the new family dynamic and adjust relatively well to seeing one parent more than the other,  most children struggle emotionally and psychologically and find it difficult to adjust to the drastic change. When we look at the 0 to 5-year old age bracket, social science tells us to be mindful of that child’s age and stage of development. Children of this age need stability, routine and consistency to thrive and meet all their developmental milestones.

One of the most common questions from parents of young children, is when can a child transition to overnight time with the non-primary parent? Unfortunately, there is no legislation or binding authority that provides that a child must commence overnight time with the other parent at a certain age. The answer is purely dependent on your child’s ability to cope with the separation from the primary parent and their common environment. Questions you should be asking yourself when trying to determine whether your child is ready for overnight time include:


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  1. Is my child breastfed? If so, it is unlikely that the child can transition to overnight time unless the mother is willing and able to express breastmilk and the child will take a bottle feed. Generally, if your child is still breastfed he or she is likely too young to be spending overnights away from their mother. That being said, it is not uncommon for children to be breastfed into their toddler years and therefore both parents must consider what is best for the child in those circumstances and make arrangements that allow the child to spend meaningful time with the non-primary parent whilst still affording them the opportunity to be breastfed.
  1. How much time does my child spend away from their primary parent? If your child is spending 5 days a week in day-care or in the care of a person that it is not biologically related to the child, then it is likely that the child is used to spending time away from the primary parent and can transition to overnight time with the other parent.
  1. What is my child’s routine when they are with their other parent? You must be willing and able to maintain consistency and routine between households to give your child the best chance at coping with overnight time. Communication is key and whilst this is not always achievable with separated parents, tools such as email and communication books can help parents agree on uncontroversial issues such as nap times and feeding schedules.,
  1. Am I available to care for my child during their overnight stay? Newborns and toddlers require 24-hour care. This is not to say that you cannot leave your child with a trusted friend or relative but there is no substitute for the care of the biological parent. Generally, the Courts will want to ensure that a parent is caring for the child overnight.

Ideally, the best arrangements for newborns and toddlers is to spend short and regular time with the other parent. This allows for bonding and familiarity with the other parent, so the child is not distressed when spending time with the non-primary parent. As an example:

  1. That the child lives with Mother/Father and spends time with the other parent as can be agreed and failing agreement as follows:
    1. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 9:00 am to 11:00 am.

Obviously, you can adjust the times and days to suit the child and your schedule.

Around 3 to 4 years of age, children start to become more resilient and aware of their primary attachments. Particularly, when they have been afforded the opportunity to spend regular and meaningful time with the non-primary parent.

From infancy to schooling age, you should consider periodically increasing your child’s time with the other parent. When children start school (Prep) and have adjusted to the Monday to Friday routine, care arrangements can be more flexible, and children will likely adjust to extended periods of time in either parents’ home.  For instance, if we build on the previous example:

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  1. Upon the child turning 1 year old:
    1. Each Monday and Wednesday from 9.00am to 1.00pm; and
    2. Each Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
  1. Upon the child turning 18 months old:
    1. Each Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; and
    2. Each Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
  1. Upon the child turning 2 years old:
    1. Each Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; and
    2. Each alternate weekend from 9.00am Saturday to 5:00 pm
  1. Upon the child turning 2.5 years old:
    1. Each Monday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; and
    2. Each alternate weekend from 9:00 am Saturday to 5:00 pm 
  1. Upon the child turning 3 years old:
    1. Each Monday from 3:00pm to 6:00pm; and
    2. Each alternate weekend from 5:00 pm Friday to 5:00 pm Saturday
  1. Upon the child turning 4 years old:
    1. Each Monday from 3:00 pm to 9.00am Tuesday; and
    2. Each alternate weekend from 5:00 pm Friday to 5:00 pm Saturday
  1. Upon the child commencing Prep:
    1. Each alternate weekend from after-school Friday to before-school Monday; and
    2. Each alternate week from after-school Wednesday to before-school Thursday.

The above-mentioned schedule allows for the gradual progression of time in accordance with the child’s age and stage of development. The days and times for each stage leading up to the child commencing Prep can and should be altered to suit the child’s routine and both parent’s schedules.

All children are different and respond to life experiences in different ways. It can be incredibly traumatic for any child to experience the separation of their parents and if not handled in the appropriate way children will undoubtedly struggle with the separation of their parents. This daunting prospect coupled with the idea of being separated from one parent for a period of time can be incredibly difficult for a child to cope with. In these difficult times, it is hard to know what is right for your child particularly, for children young children from newborns to schooling age.

At Forge Legal, your child’s bests interests are our priority. We pledge to tell you the truth and to respect you and your situation. We prioritize your child’s needs within the context of the provisions in the Family Law Act. Our advice is designed to ensure the best possible outcome for your child. Our lawyers have extensive experience in children’s matters with particular emphasis on care arrangements for children at every stage in their young lives. We strive to achieve outcomes where every child has consistency and stability in their lives to ensure they have a bright future ahead. 


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