“Flexibility was second most important to the children. Those that had it, loved it; those that did not have it, wished they had.” – Connie Ahrens
Access creates flexibility in the schedule and ways for both parents to participate in the children’s lives. There are five types of access:
Telephone Access: How often do calls make sense? How long should the calls be? Are there times of day that are inconvenient to have incoming calls?
Parent Involvement outside of the Family: Design a system that allows both parents to participate in the children’s activities at school, extracurricular activities, and other important events. Is it okay to visit the children at the daycare? If both are at a soccer match, what will the rules be for the child in terms of greeting the other parent, sitting with him or her, etc.? The goal is for the child to have both parents there, without any conflict, and for the child to know what the rules are.
Child Initiated Access: Children sometimes want to go off schedule, without any influence from the parents. Who does the child ask first? What happens after the child asks? Parents need to design a procedure and then explain these to the child. In general, grant the request if there are no competing plans. Be very cautious to avoid setting up a situation of “good guy/bad guy” with the children. The parent with the children should be able to make the final decision, and both parents should be supportive of each other’s decisions to the children. If the access includes a lot of time, make an agreement about possible exchange rules (e.g. if it is for a whole weekend, exchange the weekend before or the one after).
Changing Access Times: Parents often get opportunities to do something special with the children, but the residential schedule interferes. Because both parents over time will likely have these opportunities, parents should be able to change the schedule. However, to be successful, there must be a mutually agreed-upon procedure. Should the parent ask the child first, to see if he or she is interested? Should the parents talk first, in case it does not work out? Should there be exchange times for lengthier access times?
Extended Family Access: Parents should discuss extended family access to the children and the children’s access to extended family. Can grandparents call the children at either house, or should it only be to one residence? Remember to think in terms of what will be good for the children, not what you might be comfortable with. After designed, explain this to the children and to the extended family members.
Editor’s Note: This is an edited excerpt from COPARENTING TRAINING WORKBOOK FOR SEPARATING AND SEPARATED PARENTS written by Kenneth H. Waldon, PhD and Allan R. Koritzinsky, Esq.
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