In considering what parenting arrangements will be in the best interests of the children, it is good to start with a few basic principles:
• Priority must be given to the safety of the children and each of their parents. Many couples break up without any history of violence or child abuse, but sadly in all too many cases there has been a history of serious violence by at least one of the parents. See Family violence and child abuse.
If you are concerned about your safety, or the safety of the children while in the other parent’s care, it is important that you get good advice from a family lawyer or from a domestic violence service. In some cases, courts will order that arrangements are put in place so that the parents do not have to meet when the children go from one parent to the other. There are also cases where one parent is prevented from seeing the children in order to protect them from harm.
• Think about the practicalities. Some parents approach arguments about the parenting arrangements from a position of their legal rights or a desire for equality between the parents. However, it is good to think about the practical issues as well:
o If both parents want to spend time with the child during the school week, how will this be managed practically? Do both parents work full-time?
o What arrangements will be made to look after the children before and after school if one or both parents have long distances to commute to work?
o How far apart do the parents live?
o How much time will the children need to spend in the car or on a bus for each home to get to and from school?
o Does each parent have sufficient flexibility in their workplace to stay at home looking after a child who is sick?
Sometimes, if you think about these practical issues first, suitable parent arrangements will become quite obvious.
• Put aside your disagreements with each other: There may be a great deal of bitterness about the breakup, and a lot of anger between you, but the parent arrangements are about what is best for your children.
• Consider a variety of options: There may well be a range of options that work well enough for the parents and the children. The law requires mediators and family lawyers to advise parents at least to consider the option of an equal time arrangement or one for the other parent to spend time with the child during the school week. However, much depends on the age of the child. Young children generally need some stability in a primary home. Prof Bob Emery, an American expert, has some good advice and suggestions for different parenting plans depending on the age of the children. See here.