Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Post-Separation Patterns of Children's Overnight Stays with Each Parent: A Detailed Snapshot

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Post-Separation Patterns of Children's Overnight Stays with Each Parent: A Detailed Snapshot

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Despite widespread interest in patterns of parenting after separation over the past decade--especially in shared-time arrangements--few studies have explored the detail of post-separation parenting time schedules. This article: (a) provides a detailed snapshot of children's overnight stays with each parent among a national random sample of 408 separated parents registered with the Australian Child Support Agency (CSA); and (b) develops a typology of parenting time that emphasises the contiguity of overnights and the frequency of children's transitions between parents" homes. Parenting time schedules are examined across a range of residence levels from 1-8 overnight stays per fortnight with fathers. While many separated fathers see their children mainly on weekends, the immense diversity of modern parenting time schedules points to a greater sharing of parental responsibilities and richer range of parenting contexts post- separation than previously evident in Australia. The article encourages researchers, parents, practitioners and policymakers to adopt a multi-dimensional view of parenting time rather than focus on time simply as a number or percentage.

KEYWORDS: children, divorce, joint custody, parenting time, transitions, visitation

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Changes in the amount, nature and experience of time with children after parental separation represent one of the fundamental challenges for family members post-divorce.

Indeed, as noted by clinicians, such as Watts (2008, p. 131-32):

   [t]he sad aspect of parental separation is that the situation
   for children and, in most cases, parents will be
   irrevocably altered in ways which mean the parents
   generally have less opportunity for quantity and quality
   time with their children.... Separation effectively
   halves the maximum possible time spent with children,
   while the demands of life will often increase....
   [E]ach parent suffers a loss. Each will grieve the loss
   of some of the former involvement in the lives of the
   children. It is the hardest emotional cost of the whole
   separation for most parents.

Of course, children are intimately--and usually reluctantly--caught up in the restructuring of their parents' lives after separation (Pryor & Daly Peoples, 2001) and many grieve the loss of daily contact with the parent who no longer lives with them (most often their father) (Ahrons, 2004; Kelly, 2005; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000; Parkinson, Cashmore, & Single, 2005; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980).

Most studies suggest that the interests of children post-separation are generally best served when children can maintain continuing and frequent contact with both parents who cooperate and communicate in a climate of low inter-parental conflict (Pryor & Rodgers, 2001). In recent years, amid relatively high rates of post-divorce paternal absence, Australian legislation has gone further than that of many other countries to encourage shared-time arrangements, that is, joint physical custody (Fehlberg, Smyth, Maclean, & Roberts, 2011). The Australian legislative changes enshrine in law the need for family law courts to begin with a presumption of shared parental responsibility (not applicable in limited circumstances including family violence and rebuttable when not in the best interests of the child) and if that is ordered, to consider orders for the children to spend 'equal' or else 'substantial or significant periods' of time with each parent (encompassing parenting time on weekends, midweek days and holidays) where such arrangements are in children's best interest and reasonably practicable. (2) Changes to the Australian Child Support Scheme--particularly, the introduction of a parenting time adjustment for 'regular care'--resonate with the family law changes by encouraging shared parenting after separation. (3)

Despite widespread interest in patterns of parenting after separation and children's wellbeing over the past decade, especially in relation to shared-time arrangements, few studies have explored the detail of post-separation parenting time schedules. …

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