Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit has issued a publication entitled Visitation Dos and Don’ts. While written for Florida parents, the approaches listed in the publication will work for parents in any state. These are helpful guidelines for approaching parenting time and visitation regardless if you are old hands at this, or if you are facing parenting time and visitation for the first time.
Remembering the Importance of Parenting Time
For the children, parenting time is a critical part of maintaining their sense of connectedness and belonging both during the divorce, and in the years beyond the divorce into adulthood. Many parents report visitation schedules, child hand offs, and working around changes in the schedule due to child centered activities or the obligations of the parents become easier with time. However, when parents are committed from the beginning to make the transition from one parent’s home to the other as peaceful and calm as possible, kids do better.
Sharing Parenting Goals
Regardless of each parent’s view of the divorce, parenting will remain something most divorced couples will do together, at least to some extent. As such, identifying and agreeing to constructive parenting goals can help ensure the parents are on the same page, committed to raising children who are happy, healthy, and whole human beings. Common parenting goals include:
- Recognizing and acknowledging their children have two homes
- Ensuring the children are comfortable and safe at both parents’ homes
- Recognizing the value of each child spending time with their other parent
- Encouraging visitation as a way of helping the children grow and develop with the perspective, skills, and talents of both parents
- Affirming the child’s right to love both of their parents
- Treating the other parent with respect, if for no other reason than because the child loves both parents
- Being consistent in parenting approaches whenever possible and finally
- Being respectful of the other parents’ child raising approach unless it is unsafe or unhealthy.
Not every set of parents will be able to meet each of these parenting goals. Even parents who are committed to making child custody and visitation as easy for the child as possible may, at times, struggle to meet all of these goals. However, doing the best you can, as often as you can, is a really good start.
Steps Ensuring Smoother Visitation and Parenting Time
Effortless visitation and parenting time rarely just happens. Instead, it takes planning and careful consideration of the situation. Some children have an every other week parenting schedule. Other children live with one parent during the school year, and the other parent during the summer. Because different families have different visitation schedules, consider these recommended tips for smooth visitations, and modify them to fit the needs of your family.
With Your Former Spouse
- Be respectful to your former spouse. Do not speak ill of them in front of your children (even if what you are saying is true). Do not allow others to speak ill of your child’s other parent in their presence, either. There is nothing productive or helpful about this. Further, it will hurt your children.
- Do not put your child in the middle of disagreements with your former spouse. Do not use your child as a messenger to convey information back and forth.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your former spouse. You will have to figure out what works best for the two of you. It may be in the form of text messages, email, phone calls, or another form of communication. However, it is essential a system is in place to discuss things like homework obligations, a child’s illness, extracurricular activities and the like.
- Take steps to ensure the children feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging at both homes. Even if they only have a portion of a room, take steps to help the child make that area their own, so they feel comfortable living in the space.
With Your Children
- Consider developing routines to make the children comfortable with the transition. Consider speaking with your child’s other parent about adopting the same or similar routines at their house, so that transition times are similar, and therefore familiar. The transition from one home to another should be a top priority. Changing living arrangements every couple of days, or for the summer, can be stressful. Work to minimize the stress.
- Create a packing list of things that need to be brought between houses. Ideally, they will have basic essentials at both houses. However, if a special stuffed animal or blanket is critical for a child’s peace of mind, including it on a weekly check list of things to pack can reduce stress for the child.
- Where possible, be flexible with visitation schedules. If a special family event is planned, consider modifying the visitation schedule as necessary so the children can participate. Extended family is important. Including the children in extended family gatherings helps the children have a sense of belonging.
- Consider steps to assist your child in becoming familiar with the neighborhood. Enroll them in a sport or other activity where they can meet other children in the neighborhood. If you live close to the other parent, consider setting up play dates with friends who are familiar.
As divorced parents, parenting time and visitation will now be a normal part of your life and your children’s lives until they are adults. However, you will be their parents throughout their lives. This may include college campus visits, graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren, and countless other milestones. Finding a way to be in the presence of your child’s other parent, and celebrating your child, is an important skill to develop.
If you are considering divorce, or if you need your parenting time and visitation schedule modified to better suit the needs of your family, contact the law firm of Fait & DiLima. Our family law attorneys have the experience you need to work out your family law issues. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at (301) 251-0100. We look forward to working with you.