Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK

- promoting responsible shared parenting after separation and divorce -

Guidelines for separating parents

Guidelines for contact

The child's adjustment to his parent's divorce will be greatly enhanced if the parents can establish a schedule for contact in a positive and co-operative manner. The following guidelines can assist divorcing parents in avoiding common problems.
  • The parent with whom the child lives should make every effort to reassure the child that he/she approves of the child's contact with the other parent. The parent should actively encourage the child to attend and enjoy visits.
  • The visiting parent should ensure that the other parent knows the general whereabouts of the children, and has a contact telephone number when the children are away on extended visits.
  • Disagreements about suitability of clothing or visits should be discussed between parents, not with the children.
  • Every effort should be made by both parents to keep within timescales which have been agreed.
  • Parents should respect each other's privacy and recognise that interrogating a child during or after visits may lessen the child's enjoyment of those visits.
  • Parents should avoid making negative comments about the other parent either to the child or in his presence.
  • A child who acts withdrawn after a visit is not necessarily reflecting a visitation problem, but rather reflecting his level of stress and concern regarding the changes in his family.
  • Parents should assume responsibility for arranging visits.
  • It is important for children, particularly younger children, to have a consistent and predictable schedule when they can anticipate seeing their absent parent.
  • Periods of extended visitation allow the parent-child relationship to develop in a more realistic manner.
  • Visitation between children and their absent parents occurs more smoothly and therefore more beneficially for he children when the parents are able to communicate and encourage positive feelings about each other.


For the great majority of children there is no doubt that their interests will be best served by efforts to sustain links with their natural families. Contact, in the sense of personal visits and meetings will generally be the most common and, for both parent and child, the most satisfactory way of maintaining their relationship.

But other means which can help to keep family bonds alive should be borne in mind: letters, telephone calls, exchange of photographs. Such contacts - however occasional - may continue to have value for the child even when contact has ended. These contacts can keep alive for a child a sense of his origins and may keep open options for family relationships in later life.

The wider family

Consideration of contact should take into account the child's wider family, and should not overlook the problems which may arise when the parent with whom the child resides may be reluctant to provide such contact.

The child's wishes

Sometimes children are openly unwilling to see a parent or have ambivalent feelings about contact. Unfortunately such children are unlikely to be able to appreciate the short or long-term effects of a decision not to have contact - both on themselves and the other person. Carers must attempt to understand the source of these feelings and help the child understand them so that visits can become a source of enjoyment and advantage. Contact should not be allowed to lapse until after real efforts have been made to help the child understand what is likely to be of greatest benefit to him.

Choice of venue

Natural parents need help in seeing their child in someone else's home, living as part of someone else's family. Sometimes the visits to the children's home can be so stressful to one of the parties that tensions cannot be quickly resolved and help may be required to deal with the practical aspects of contact. Occasionally an alternative venue for meeting may have to be found.

The impact of divorce on adults

The assistance of an objective, trained counsellor has proved helpful to many people faced with the end of a relationship.

For some couple divorce may be a mutual decision, but for most the choice is made by one spouse, much to the disappointment of the other, leading to strong and uncomfortable emotions.

Frequently sadness gradually turns into anger as the need to find blame strengthens. Later, feelings of sadness and loss are acknowledged and the relationship 'let go'.

The impact of divorce on children

Children are particularly vulnerable and sensitive to the stresses of a divorce, but with thoughtful parenting they should be able to make a normal and healthy adjustment within a relatively short period of time.

Children will generally experience a variety of feelings, normally :

  • insecurity
  • fear of abandonment
  • depression
  • sadness
  • anger
  • loneliness
  • self-blame, guilt
  • conflicted loyalties

These feelings may be acted out through troublesome behaviour:

  • temper outbursts and aggressive behaviour
  • reduction in school performance
  • alignment with one parent
  • reconciliation fantasies
Infants and toddlers - need to feel secure in their environment. Contact should be consistent, frequent and in an appropriate environment.

Pre-school children - have a sense of good and bad, and with this comes guilt. These children may blame themselves for the divorce. They are also vulnerable to perceptions of abandonment by a parent.

Pre-adolescents - are susceptible to emotional manipulation. They have a tendency to take sides and act out against the parent they perceive as blameworthy. This needs to be diffused and the child helped to work out his anger.

Adolescents - continue to have a need for parental guidance and guidelines, requiring the time, energy and participation of both parents.

The reactions described above are normal. It is important to recognise the need for assistance when a child's reaction is severe or prolonged.

Fortunately, however, most children quickly regain their balance. This is especially true when both parents are able to cooperate in fulfilling the task of commitment they started together, raising their children.

Guidelines for parents

Explanation of the divorce: The children need to be provided with an explanation of the divorce, which may need to be re-explained when they grow older.

Feelings of guilt and blame: Children need ongoing reassurance from their parents that the children were not responsible for the divorce.

Fear of rejection and abandonment: Children need to be reassured of continued love from both parents by consistent contact through visits, phone calls etc.

Parental undermining/criticism: Parents should avoid criticism of the other parent to the child or in the child's presence.

Parental communications: Parents need to avoid placing the child in the unfair position of carrying messages between them regarding visits, support etc.

Changing financial situation: Parents should not unfairly burden the children with unnecessary details.

Consistency of parenting: Parents should prepare a plan for consistent child care which makes as few changes to the child's daily routine as possible.

Extended family members: Parents should make efforts to maintain the children's contacts with their extended family.

Reconciliation fantasies: Parents should be truthful and help the child to deal with the realities of the divorce from the outset.


The foregoing draws heavily on :
  • 'Access to children in care' - DHSS code of practice [1983]
  • 'Divorce and your children' - booklet prepared by the Family Division of the Connecticut Superior Court.

David Cannon
Last updated - 3 January 1997

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