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Parenting time: Making child-focused decisions

Divorce is difficult for everyone involved. Children, however, will make an easier adjustment when the parents work together even if they do not live with each other. Parents typically decide the parenting time schedules that work best for all involved but are centered on the child's needs. If there are no physical or sexual abuse, chemical dependency, or other domestic violence issues, a child will benefit most by having regular contact with both parents.

Parenting time, and co-parenting in general, require some finesse and careful thought from both parties as they navigate busy schedules. Even if you and your spouse despise each other you can follow a few simple tips to ensure your decisions are child-focused. 

5 tips for child-focused decisions

1. Keep the child out of the middle. You can achieve this goal if both parents refrain from making disparaging remarks about the other or sending messages through the child. Direct communication between the parents is best. You can also keep them out of the middle by not asking a child to report on the other parent.

2. Understand parenting time and child support are separate. You cannot withhold parenting time for non-payment of child support and vise versa. Children thrive best when both parents provide continuous emotional and financial support.

3. Foster respect. In a child-focused decision, the time spent with the other parent is valued. For example, one parent will not schedule events or activities during the other parent's time unless both agree. Neither parent should interfere with the other's parenting time.

4. Establish a routine. You and your former spouse can decide who will pick up and drop off the child, whether it's from daycare or school and on which particular days. Additionally, similar routines at each household for meals, bedtime and homework are also beneficial. An established routine will help the child feel loved and secure, as well as minimize potential conflict between parents. Keep in mind, no parent should enter the other parent's home without permission.

5. Provide the child's effects. The transition from one parent's home to the other can be difficult for children even if they have a good relationship. You can ease your child's anxiety by sending your child with his or her treasured possessions (i.e. favorite stuffed animal, blanket or photos). It is also best to send your child with their clothes and any medication they may need.

The above tips are not an exhaustive list. In Minnesota, divorcing parents are required to take a parenting class that will offer additional resources for making child-focused parenting time decisions. However, if you are unable to resolve a conflict, an attorney experienced with family law can guide you through any necessary next steps. 

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