There is no single living arrangement after separation and divorce that works best for all families with middle aged (9-12 years of age) children. In determining the appropriateness of a parenting time schedule for any aged child, parents should consider their family’s circumstances, needs, preferences, logistics, the nature of parent-child relationships as well as developmental and divorce research findings. Other factors to include are the distance between homes, and each parent’s work schedule and other obligations.
Children between the ages of 9 and 12 (tweens) usually begin to seek more independence accompanied with an increased desire to do more things with friends and less with their family and under adult supervision. Therefore, parenting time schedules should consider this natural tendency by creating some flexibility and adaptability in the living arrangement, particularly for children in the upper age range. For instance, from time to time, a child’s commitment to an activity may require the parenting time schedule to be adjusted. However, parental supervision, predictability and a consistent schedule are still critical elements of any parenting time schedule. Parents and children need to stand by commitments to a living arrangement.
As children move through this developmental stage, becoming more active in school, social and extra-curricular activities and peer involvement, the time sharing plan should be reconsidered and modified over time. Some middle-aged children often want to be part of the decision-making. However, they are not mature enough to make decisions regarding their living arrangements and such a decision would certainly create undue pressure on the child. Parents should let them express their views regarding the living arrangement, but must make it clear that ultimately it is up to the adults to make the final decisions.
While many middle aged children benefit from a primary residence, tweens can also benefit from spending longer periods of time with the nonresidential parent. Duration of separation from both parents becomes less critical at this age. Optimal parenting time arrangements range from 35-65% of the time with either parent (thus a primary home) to 50-50% time with each parent.
Most children this age can manage 5 to 7 day separations from either parent, creating fewer transitions. Some tweens may be comfortable with one to three weekends of parenting time per month with the non-residential parent, depending upon the child’s schedule, distance, and capacity to travel. Other tweens may be comfortable spending time with each parent for parenting time lasting two to three days on a regular basis. For instance, the tween can spend time with one parent every Monday and Tuesday while spending every Wednesday and Thursday with the other parent, alternating the weekends.
Depending on the circumstances of the family, level of parental conflict and the tween’s activities and commitments, middle aged children may be comfortable spending a balanced, fifty-fifty schedule with their parents, including up to one week at each residence with a mid-week evening at their other home. A tween’s equal access to each of their parents will depend on many factors such as the prior history of the relationship with each parent as well as the ability of the parent to meet their needs. The more time a child spends with each parent, the more comfortable the child will be spending time away from their home base.
When tweens reside in a primary home base, some children are capable of spending extended time away from the residential parent during the summer months. The middle aged child may be able to tolerate three to four weeks of parenting time with the nonresidential parent during the summer months, but not taken all at one time.
Due to the desire to be with friends and involved in other activities, parents can increase their connection with their children by regularly attending sports and other activities, and by acknowledging accomplishments and special events. The tween should be allowed to attend activities no matter which home they are currently residing in. Likewise, by calling the child on a regular basis, parent-child connections can be maintained and enhanced. Phone contact by the absent parent should be predictable and respectful of the other parent’s household. Two to three phone calls per week should be sufficient. However, the child should be able to call the absent parent as they desire unless it is interfering with their responsibilities or sleep schedule.
For more details on specific middle aged parenting time schedules visit:
- Arizona Supreme Court Parenting Time Guidelines at http://www.azcourts.gove/Portals/31/Parenting Time/ PPWguidelines.pdf
- Boyan, S. and Termini A.M. (2018). Parenting Coordination Resource Manual (Available at www.cooperativeparenting.com
Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC