A connection with both parents, and even extended family, is central to maintaining a sense of continuity in children’s lives even when everything else has changed. Parents also desire the assurance and certainty that they will continue to have a meaningful relationship with their children.
Access Describes the Residential Arrangements
Access is the legal term that refers to the time spent by a parent with the children. It may be more accurate to use the terms “secondary residence” or “parenting time”. These arrangements will be part of a comprehensive parenting plan.
The Child’s Right to a Relationship with a Parent
In dividing parenting time, parents will be required to set aside their own needs and wishes. All too often, we hear parents referring to access as “their time”. However, it is the “child’s time” and right to have a relationship with his or her parents. As such, when developing a plan, parents should first consider what the children’s needs are.
What to Consider
This may involve a consideration of:
- The age of the child: typically, younger children will have more frequent contact with their parents, but of a shorter duration. As they grow older, they can tolerate time away from their parents for longer periods of time;
- The child’s personality: some children cope better with frequent transitions between home, than others;
- The child’s routine and activities: Any plan should disrupt the child’s routine as little as possible. After all, they are already dealing with significant changes to their family. Parents should develop a plan around the child’s schedule and needs, rather than trying to adapt the child to the parent’s scheduling needs. While parents have good intentions, this requires an honest assessment of their ability to be consistent;
- Distance between homes: If parents live a significant distance from each other, a plan may provide for larger chunks of time, but less frequently, in order to avoid the children “commuting”;
- Other sibling relationships: Not only is the parent-child relationship an important one, but as families evolve there may be new half-siblings. These sibling bonds will outlive that of the parent-child, and should be nurtured as much as possible.
Most of the time, it is better to work out disputes together. Together you can work out solutions that fit your family and that have input from both of you. A court may not have the flexibility or creativity necessary, and may leave one or both sides feeling as though an unwanted solution has been imposed upon them.
On rare occasions it may be that generous access is not in the best interests of the children. If the parents cannot work together without high conflict, if there are issues of alienation where the children are played off against one or both parents, or if there are allegations of abuse, it may be necessary to seek help from the courts.