About 1 in 5 children in Australia is growing up living between two households. If you have a shared care arrangement for your child, here are some practical tips to make it work.
Deciding to separate or divorce brings big changes to the family. It might take your child some time to get used to moving between two homes. They might worry that they’re not spending enough time with one parent, or that choosing to stay at one home will hurt the feelings of the other parent.
Different homes have different rules and a different atmosphere. There may be a step-parent or other siblings in a blended family to consider. Your child might be upset by different routines and expectations.
Sometimes children have trouble switching between different homes and may not want to go to one parent’s house. Being away from you might be hard, especially if your child is young. They might get quite upset or feel that they aren’t safe and secure.
There are also a lot of practical things to consider, like how the child will manage school or get to after school activities.
You will need to think about where to keep the child’s belongings, how to schedule birthday parties, who is going to receive correspondence and invitations, and how you are going to manage holidays and special occasions.
Tips for supporting your child living in two households
How to write a parenting plan
A parenting plan is a written agreement with the other parent. It is a written agreement between both parents that covers practical issues and responsibilities. You can get help to write a parenting plan from a family relationships centre or a family dispute resolution practioner. Relationships Australia’s Share the Care booklet is an example of a parenting plan. If you can’t agree with your former partner, you may need to go to the Family Court to apply for a Parenting Order, which is a legally enforceable arrangement.
Talk to your child about the arrangements
Once you have agreed on the arrangements, explain them clearly to your child. Tell them when they will be in each home, who will be looking after them, and when you will see them again. Explain that the amount of time they spend with each parent isn’t about who loves the child the most. It is a good idea to speak clearly, simply and truthfully. It can help if you encourage your child to talk to another trusted adult too.
Use checklists for handovers
Keeping a checklist handy of everything your child will need when they go to the other parent’s house will help at handover time, when tensions can run high and it’s easy to forget things . It’s a good idea to keep a set of the basics in both homes, like pyjamas, underwear, toiletries, school uniforms and runnersItems like sports equipment, musical instruments, homework and schoolbooks which won’t have doubles usually need to move with the children.
Work out whether you will contact your child while they’re away
Both you and your child might feel sad and lonely while you’re apart. You may be able to agree on some contact with them while they’re with the other parent, for example via a quick phone call or text message. Plan to do things for yourself that you enjoy while they’re away.
You can work out who is responsible for things like health visits or school concerts. If you’re not on good terms with your former partner, it’s a good idea to plan who is going to go and what you’ll do if you both turn up.
You can use a shared online calendar with your former partner to help with organisation and communication. There are apps available to help with coordinating care, budgeting and social events. You can ask the school or preschool to give your former partner duplicates of every note, so they’re up to date with what’s going on.
Keep to routines
If possible, try to follow similar routines in each household. Your child will feel more secure if they are able to go to their regular activities, have play dates and follow the same bedtime routine. If rules are different in each house, make sure you explain them clearly so your child knows what is expected of them.
Give them their own space
Help your child to feel at home by giving them some space of their own. If they don’t have their own room, let them put up pictures or store some toys. For younger children, if they have a special toy or blanket, make sure it travels with them between homes.
Ease the transitions
Moving between homes can be difficult for some children. It helps if you arrange the handover at a time of day when your child isn’t too tired or hungry. If your relationship with your former partner is difficult, you can arrange the handover so you don’t have to meet. A Children’s Contact Service can help with this.
When your child comes back to your home, it might take them a little while to unwind. Do something together that you both enjoy, eat a special meal, go to the park or look at the calendar to plan the days ahead. Try not to ask them too much about their time with the other parent.
Deal with special celebrations
Birthdays and holidays can be difficult to manage. Some parents split the day in half, some alternate the day each year. You could also celebrate at a different time. It’s a good idea to tell the other parent what presents you’re buying, so you don’t double up.
As your child grows up, things will change. You may need more flexibility to manage their school, after school activities, social life and work. You can be flexible by always having alternative arrangements in case something goes wrong, trying not to get upset when plans change and thinking about what you will do when your child starts school or after school activities.
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Last reviewed: March 2020