Separating parents and their contact arrangements with their children are important to consider. Should children have overnight contact with “absent” parents?
An article in the Guardian Newspaper recently highlighted controversial statements made by Penelope Leach in relation to children having overnight contact with “absent” parents. Amongst her claims is that “children … when very little, shouldn’t be taken away overnight from what is usually the mother – the person they are attached to”.
However, the article also quotes a number of figures who strongly dispute this position, amongst them Dr Tara Weeramanthri, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Dr Nigel Sherriff, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Health Research at Brighton University and a member of the British Psychological Society.
Ms Leach later provided an interview to the Guardian stating that she is not “anti-fathers” .
Contact arrangements vary hugely from family to family – some families operate a “shared care” arrangement whereby the children spend 50% of their time with each parent; other families may have arrangements where children have Skype or letter contact with the non-resident parent.
The principle underpinning all contact and residence arrangements is the welfare of the child. If matters cannot be agreed between the parents, a court can make the decision for them – this decision will always be based on what is best for the child.
Dr Tara Weeramanthri’s comments are particularly interesting as they provide some practical advice for managing contact involving young children. This ties back into the concept of the welfare of the child as it brings the focus back to making the arrangements work for the children.
There are always exceptions to the rule but, generally speaking, parents are best-placed to decide the care arrangements for their children. The best possible outcome for most children will come from parents working together to agree what is right for their child.
6 tips for separating parents:
- Although at times it may seem impossible, try to separate your feelings towards your ex-partner from the arrangements for your children – you may no longer want to have a relationship with him or her but your children might.
- Always try to avoid bad-mouthing your ex-partner in front of your children. There will definitely be times when you need someone to vent to but pick up the phone to a friend or consider seeking help from a counsellor or relationship therapist.
- If you are the parent having contact, don’t feel pressured to have a new and exciting activity in place every time – curling up with a book together like you used to do can be just as valuable time spent.
- Keep your children informed of any changes to contact patterns so that they know in advance where they will be going and when..
- …but try to avoid telling them of possible future plans, proposals which you will be making to the court etc. Telling your child that you are going to ask the court if you can have them to stay overnight will confuse them and may lead to disappointment if it does not happen when expected.
- Whether you are the resident parent or the contact parent, make time to have fun with your children. It is likely to be a time of change and some anxiety for all of you so it is good to enjoy positive time together.