Shared care is the hardest part of any separation, as not being able to see your children every day can leave a big hole in your heart. It’s an immense transition for you, your coparent and your children, so it will take time to adjust and find what works for everybody.
Before we share our top co-parenting tips for shared care, accept four facts.
Shared care will take time to adjust to. You’re not only adjusting to being on your own, but you’re also adjusting to not seeing your kids every day. The anxiety you will feel is natural, but the longer you hold on to it, the greater the impact on you and your children. Don’t fool yourself into believing the kids won’t cope with not seeing you for a week at a time – they will. The only reason they don’t cope is you place your anxieties and guilt on them.
You’re going through the second most stressful event in life, so emotions are high and you probably don’t like your co-parent right now. How you are dealing with your feelings towards your co-parent will affect how positively you manage shared care.
Since opposites attract, one of you is naturally organised and the other disorganised. If you are organised, don’t be so inflexible it’s impossible for your co-parent to meet your expectations. If you are disorganised, work on getting better by using tools to improve – two alarms for getting to changeovers works a treat!
Life throws us curve balls. Changes to work requirements, sickness, availability of childcare, or terrible traffic can affect shared care arrangements and changeover times.
Based on these facts, just give yourself, your co-parent and your kids time to settle into the new routine and accept that it will be a little frustrating, messy and emotionally stressful, but it will be ok! If you’re finding it too overwhelming, seek counselling to help you transition.
Now you’re ready for Divvito’s top co-parenting tips for shared care of the kids.
1. Select the right shared care schedule
There are several variable factors that have to be taken into account when planning care scedules – age of children, work commitments and living arrangements. Since these factors could change over time, ensure your ongoing shared care schedules can change too. You might start with 30/70 care and transition to 50/50 care within 12 months or two years. The objective is to be clear from the outset of what you would like the final arrangements to be and work out a transition plan to get there.
Below are various options based on the percentage of care and frequency of changeovers. Limiting the number of changeovers is in the best interests of everybody concerned (remember fact one above). It’s ok to start with more if the kids are young or you do shift work, but work towards once a week if possible. You’ll thank me later!
50/50 shared care
7 / 7
3 / 4 / 4 / 3
2 / 2 / 5 / 5
5 / 3 / 2 / 4
2 / 2 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 3
60/40 shared care
4 / 3
5 / 3 / 3 / 3
70/30 shared care
5 / 2
5 / 2 / 2 / 5
80/20 shared care
11 / 3
3 / 1 / 8 / 2
2. Set the changeover days
While it seems Friday is usually recommended as the starting day, we’ve believe Monday is better for several reasons. For week on, week off arrangements, it gives you the weekend to get the house ready for the kids – grocery shopping, prepping meals and cleaning. It also ensures you start the school week with the kids and have time to plan extra-curricular activities with their friends for the coming weekend. Also, many public holidays are on Mondays so you can extend the long weekend easily by taking the Friday off too. My co-parent and I originally started on a Friday but after a full week of work, it was hard to have the energy or headspace for the kids on that first night, which they totally deserve.
3. Set the time
Your aim is to make changeover as simple and stress-free as possible for you and the kids. It’s best to incorporate into your children’s normal routine and the end of a school day is best, ie 3:00 pm. It’s also great for public holidays as you’re not rushing to get to a changeover in the morning. Just remember, if you dropped them off that day and they are sick, they are still your responsibility until that changeover time.
4. Set the location
On weekdays, school or childcare is the best place for changeovers. On weekends or holidays, collect the children from the other parent’s place. It means you can go through the shared items and collect what’s missing. If your co-parenting relationship is strained, meet at a public location central to both homes. McDonalds, a shopping centre carpark or as a last resort, a Police Station carpark, are usual options. If someone decides to move away, a central location should be used unless the other co-parent is happy to drive the extra distance.
5. Confirm contact time in off weeks
Children will get used to any new situation if you aren’t projecting your anxiety on them. What I mean is if you are saying to them constantly, ‘I miss you so much when you’re not with me’, or ‘I can’t go a day without talking to you’, they will worry that if they don’t feel that too, they will hurt your feelings. If you say ‘I love you heaps, and have a great time with mum/dad’, they will know that all is OK. It is still OK to schedule a call every two to three days so they can tell you all about their day, but it’s best to do every night as it can be unsettling for everybody. Of course, if your child asks to call the other parent to tell them about something exciting that happened that day, don’t stop them. It just has to be a quick call.
When scheduling a specific time to chat, before or after the evening meal works best. If for some reason the time needs to change when you have the kids, ie you’re at an event, give your co-parent plenty of warning and find an alternate time that works for everybody.
6. Plan for holidays and important dates
You need to pre-plan for different schedules over school holidays and important dates. Important dates include religious events, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day and any other days significant to your family.
Best to alternate every year for the major events or kid’s birthdays or if it works for you, split those days in half.
For school holidays, here are some suggestions for shared care so you have more time with your children:
Spring and Autumn:
Split in half, so if a two-week break, do week on, week off.
Alternate the whole break each year. One year you do Spring, the next year you do Autumn.
Summer and Winter:
For the long break, split in half or quarters, so if 10 weeks do five weeks each, two and a half weeks each, or keep to your usual schedule and split a four or six week period in the middle. Rotate which weeks you do each year so you alternate Christmas or another major religious period.
For the short break, repeat the suggestions for the Spring and Autumn breaks.
5. Identify process for changes to care arrangements
You need a certain level of flexibility in care arrangements. Don’t be that parent that won’t change or consider changing under any circumstances. Set some guidelines for discussing changes.
Firstly, do you want to be the first option for taking the children if your co-parent is called away for work, or are you happy they stay at a relative’s or friend’s home?
If your co-parent does want to be the first option, call them immediately if something unexpected has come up, and ask if they can take care of the children. Since you’re asking for the change, and if it’s not often reciprocated, offer to make it easier for your co-parent by paying for dinner and the children’s lunches, and drop them off/pick them up.
Secondly, for requests to changes a few weeks or months away, provide sufficient details, go out of you way to make it easy for your co-parent, and give them a chance to ask questions or request slight changes. Also, provide a fair timeframe to respond (see rules below). Here is an example of a request sent on a Sunday:
‘Hi Susan, my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary is four weeks away and a family reunion has just been planned. Since I don’t have the kids that week, can we please change weeks? I have to drive up early Friday morning so would love to have the kids from Thursday afternoon. I have a few options but happy if you have other suggestions.
You could have from the Monday of the previous week through to the Thursday (so 1.5 weeks) and then I have them from Thursday through to Monday week (1.5 weeks). Alternatively, I collect them on the Thursday and you have them from the following Thursday for 1.5 weeks. I am happy to just have them Thursday through to Monday week and you can ask for extra time down the track. If you could let me know what works best for you by this Sunday that would be great. Thanks, Tom.’
If you’re at an impasse and your co-parent is being unreasonable, refer to your referees to help negotiate the change – See Top Co-Parenting Tips for Communication.
6. Confirm rules
When you set some guidelines from the start, it will ensure no assumptions are made as assumptions are dangerous. As they say – assume makes an ass out of you and me! Guidelines have to be respectful to both co-parents. You don’t have to like your co-parent, but you should respect them as the other parent to your children. When setting rules, just think would my boss be OK if I did this to them?’ Rules should be related to:
time variance to pickups/drop-offs, ie a 10-minute window to take into account traffic.
notifications re delays. Don’t call 15-minutes before drop-off to advise your running an hour late.
responding to care requests. Equate response time to one day for every week. I.e. If the change is within a week, respond within one day. If two weeks away, respond within two days. If eight weeks away, respond within eight days.
In the first few weeks or months after a separation, be flexible with shared care to see what works best now and in the future for both you, your co-parent and your children. This is so important as once legal parenting orders are approved, it’s hard to modify without doing through the whole process again. Just remember, you’ll be sharing care for up to 18 years, so be fair and courteous as this will ensure co-parenting is as stress-free as possible.
Have suggestions for shared care schedules? Email the Divvito team to consider updates to this article.