Q&A: How share child's time with FIFO ex-partner

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Q: Hello, I have a four-year-old daughter. Her father and I have been separated for two years. She currently spends 50:50 nights per week/fortnight between both houses. Sometimes she dosen't want to go to dad's to sleep over, as she says she wants to spend more time with mum. Her father is about to start a 2:1 FIFO roster and I'm wondering how much time is best for her to spend with her father on his week R&R break? He thinks the full seven nights, but I believe she'd be happier with a couple of nights still with mum and the others with dad (to keep a bit of familiarity and routine). Is there a guideline on how much time she should spend with each parent? Is she old enough to decide how much time she wants to spend with each? Thanks for your help.

A: It's tricky to balance the needs of everyone in situations like this. Sorry, I am not clear from your question whether your daughter is used to spending seven nights in a row with her dad. If she is, the seven nights should be OK for her familiarity and routine. If she is not, your could gradually build up to the seven nights over the next year. In the meantime, one or two nights with you (in the seven days) would be OK for her (she could still spend the days with her dad if that suited). Your ex-partner might find that he wants some flexibility in his R&R time anyway - while it's so lovely to hear he wants to spend all of it with his daughter, it's also important that he has time for adult socialising on his break. He may not be thinking of this now, but he will over the coming months and years, I'm sure.

There are no guidelines as such about how much time children should spend with each parent. It depends on the particular situation, the child's age and (very very importantly) how the parents get along. If we're talking about 50:50 custody, it definitely works best in situations where the parents get along reasonably and communicate well. 50:50 does not work well when parents don't get along. This is because it's important for children to have routine and stability across the two homes and the parents have to be able to communicate for this to be the case. It's also great if both parents support the child's activities and interests and stay involved in their child's life when it is not 'their time'. An example of this is mum still going along to reading at kindy or school on 'dad's week', or dad going to watch swimming on 'mum's week'. This will not be possible for your ex partner when he is away for work but he can stay involved by calling, sending cards, (generally being interested in her even when not with her).

Your daughter is definitely not old enough to be asked how much time she wants to spend with each parent. This decision is for you and your ex-partner to work out together, obviously with your daughter's needs as the primary concern for both of you. If you can't agree on what is best for her, organise a time with a mediator to help you and her dad talk through the issues with a third party.

Please come back to me if you'd like more advice. Angie


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