Separating from a spouse or partner can be one of the most emotional and challenging times in a person's life. The situation will frequently be even more tense and complicated when there are children involved.
For many people, one of the hardest parts is knowing where to start when trying to sort out the childcare arrangements. Emotions are often running high, the legal process can be intimidating, and the practicalities can be overwhelming.
As difficult as this might be, it is essential to address the childcare arrangements as early as you can in order to protect your children to the greatest extent possible. Of course, this will be every parent's overarching goal.
So, where do you start? While there are no hard and fast rules, these five practical steps outlined below will give you the best chance of reaching an amicable working agreement with your former partner which will also safeguard the interests of the children:
1. Decide if one person will be remaining in the former family home with the children. If possible, it would be beneficial for the children to stay living in an environment where they feel secure and stable, even if it is just in the short term.
2. If one partner is moving out or away, discuss how often, when and how he or she will have contact with the children. Frequent contact is important, especially for young children. Aim for regular communications rather than sporadic lengthy stays - and make sure the children have access to each parent via phone or text whenever possible.
3. Sit down and work out the children's schedules and your respective work schedules. Your goal should be to manage the children's school and activity commitments with as little disruption as possible. When the time comes, you should be able to show your children that they can still continue to attend all the clubs and school activities that they enjoy.
4. Even from a young age, children will pick up on any changes in the dynamic of the family, and it is best to clarify the situation for them at an early stage. Once you have the day to day practicalities noted above worked out, decide how or when to tell the children. Of course, do this sensitively and set out the practical changes they will need to face in the coming weeks. Separation and divorce is usually hard for children, even if they do not show signs of distress at the time. Although it is not the answer to everything, having some structure and knowledge of what to expect for their "new life" can usually help them cope with the changes better.
5. Finally, in cases where one of you enters into a new relationship shortly after the separation, handle any introductions carefully, gradually and ideally with support for your former partner. If at all possible, aim for your children to be well-settled into their new routine before introducing any new partners. Expect there to be some fallout at this stage and work hard to keep communication positive and open as your children adjust to having another person in their lives.
Emotions and tensions can understandably run high when parties have separated, and it can be difficult to ignore bad feelings towards your former partner. That said, your children are caught up in this through no fault of their own, and it is important to protect them as much as possible from the distress which a separation may cause.
By following the guidelines above to work with your former partner for the sake of the children, you will be giving them the best chance of adapting to all of the changes.