Having shared care of children and effectively co-parenting requires negotiation, planning and shared expectations.
Sometimes these can all go out the window, and there is no better example of this than the ‘change-over’, when children go from one home to another and parents are face-to-face.
Whether your child is leaving for the day, night or even a week, a good change-over is an uneventful one. Everything goes to plan: everyone arrives on time, with everything they need, and the swap is calm and amicable.
A change-over that is stressful can have lasting effects on the children, cause irritation and arguments between parents, and can escalate into out of hand situations. It is in everyone’s interests to have change-over times be as calm as possible, and important for your children to see you both acting amicably (friendly and kind is even better!) towards each other.
So, what do you need to know about change-over, and how can you make it easier on your children?
- Have a regular drop off time and place. Routine ensures children feel safe and know what to expect. Knowing the time in advance also helps you to make plans both with your children and without.
- The location of the change-over can be a contentious issue. School, a local playground, a family member’s home or a local cafe are all options. Police stations are never a good idea – they send the wrong message to your children and may make them feel unsafe. Have a second back-up location, even a third if necessary.
- Try not to change the drop off time or location without a very good reason, or without sufficient prior notice given to the other party. Your children benefit from consistency, they may miss an important event/appointment, and it can simply cause annoyance to the other person, which should be avoided.
- Try not to plan important events or appointments within a few hours of swap over, just in case plans do change. Avoid stress by planning to avoid it if possible.
- Ensure your child has everything they need for time with the other parent, and check these items yourself rather than relying on your child. Have a check list if it helps. Items that are reasonable to provide include their school bag and uniforms, special items of clothing for sporting events or parties, a special toy/dummy/drink bottle. Things that the other party should provide (as should you during your time) include basic clothing, nappies, formula, all food and drinks, and toys/entertainment.
- Don’t make swap overs the time to air grievances or get into a debate. Choose another time when the children aren’t present.
- Let your children know what is happening, that you love them and can’t wait to see them again. If you are receiving the children, ensure they feel welcome with a warm hug, rather than part of a stressful change-over.
If you are worried that your change-overs are not civil, or are even dangerous to you or the children, put some plans in place.
When you feel unsafe:
- Change-over in a public place, where there are operational CCTV cameras. McDonald’s, a local service station, or any area where other people are present and a camera is operating.
- Ask a family member to swap over for you. Drop the children at a relatives for a play, the other parent picks them up.
- Utilise a safe place, provided by community services, where you don’t need to see the other person and your children are safe with a social worker for the duration of the swap.
Whatever the state of your relationship with your ex-partner, swap over details should be included in your current parenting plan or parenting orders. You can agree to how the change-overs work (location, day, time, conditions) yourself or through mediation.
Good legal advice can help you negotiate a parenting plan that works for your children and the other party long term, while also considering any other factors such as domestic violence orders and you and your children’s safety.
Remember, the change-over is part of shared parenting that may need to be done for many years. It’s best to lay the groundwork and reach amicable arrangements as soon after separation as possible. After all, when parents work together to achieve outcomes in the best interests of the children, everyone is happier.
Natasha McGrow is Director and Principal lawyer at Heart Legal – a boutique law firm that specialises in achieving positive outcomes for families. Heart Legal offer free consultations by phone or over Skype at a time that suits you.