Some of the questions you have after completing the course may be questions we’ve received before. Please review these answers to the most common questions.
What if one parent behaves well in front of the children and the other does not?
First, take a step back and ask yourself if the other parent’s behaviors are unhealthy or harmful, or if they are just different than your own. Parenting is not a competition. Each parent will be better than the other parent at certain things. If the other parent’s way of doing things is not dangerous to the children, let it go. Usually, it is much more useful to focus on working together as co-parents and on improving your own relationship with your children. Any abusive or neglectful behaviour must be addressed immediately.
If you are not sure if a behaviour is harmful, call Child and Family Services at 1-866-345-9241 for more information.
What if I’m too hurt, angry or exhausted to show healthy parenting, or healthy co-parenting, to my children?
Going through separation or divorce brings about strong emotions in adults – and in children. The end of a relationship leads to many changes and losses. Each one takes some time to get used to. Some parents try to ignore their distress so it doesn’t overwhelm them. But the more you understand, feel and face the losses and the grief, the better you can cope with them.
You may choose to learn more about the grieving process by reading books or talking to others who have been through similar situations. Think about joining a support group or getting some counselling. With help from people who are not so closely involved, you may gain a better sense of control over a situation that seems overwhelming.
Take care of yourself. While you may not have control over all of the changes, you do have control over how you cope with those changes. When parents cope well, so do the children.
Remember, this journey is the same for your children, except they may not be able to understand their emotions or get the support they need. Parents and other caring adults must help them. Children also benefit from having good, age-appropriate information about the changes in the family and ways they can cope. Young children can benefit from play therapy, while school-aged children respond well to a children’s support group.
What if we have an off-balance family relationship?
- Educate yourself. Read books and articles to understand how separating parents feel, and what they might do, that could make their children feel like they are caught in the middle and have to take sides. There are a lot of self-help books and information about separation and divorce available at your local library, bookstore or online.
- Recognize the difference between your needs and your children’s needs. Separation often involves intense feelings, such as rage, humiliation, grief, and attraction, between the adults involved. Loyalty and feelings of attachment do not always end when the couple relationship does. Children may have their own feelings, such as anger, sadness or loyalty conflicts. Keep in mind that each child and each parent has a unique relationship that may not be the same as any other in the family. Let there be room for each relationship, even if it is hard to understand how your child can feel so differently about the other parent than you do.
- Understand the value of having both parents involved in your children’s life. You may not see it at first, but you will be soon be thankful – and so will the children – when you have each done as much as possible to support one another as co-parents. Think of yourselves, and the extended families, as your children’s family.
- Reach out to a counsellor or support group. Understanding your own emotions, or sharing your experience with others who know how the separation process feels, may help you deal with your own situation in a more positive way.
What should I do if the other parent keeps denying my access to our children?
First, keep in mind that addressing such issues is a parental responsibility. Avoid using children as message-carriers or as threats to address the problem. Also, avoid taking matters into your own hands by changing the parenting schedule without consulting your co-parent. Try your best to understand why the other parent feels the need to limit your access. Think about how you can address their concerns, wherever possible. Get help from a counselor or elder, a mediator or a lawyer.
If the other parent is limiting your access for no good reason, you may need to take legal action. Children have a right to have a relationship with both parents. The courts emphasize that, except in situations of child abuse, neglect, or unaddressed intimate partner violence in which certain protections apply, children are to have safe and reasonable contact with both of their parents. It is important to be patient. Depending on circumstances, things may not get sorted out as quickly as you hope or wish.
What if the other parent is unable, or unwilling, to be involved with the children?
- Support your child in expressing their disappointments, without criticizing the other parent.
- Tell the other parent about the child’s activities. If there is a history of disappointments, stop telling your child to give activity information to the other parent. Inform the other parent yourself.
- Do not push the child to involve their other parent. If the child wants to phone, text, email or video chat, then support that choice.
- Focus on what you can control – your relationship with your child. Sympathize with your child’s feelings, but keep reminding yourself that this lack of involvement may have been part of the reason you separated in the first place. It isn’t necessarily going to change now. But sometimes, after separation, an uninvolved parent feels freer to become more involved. Make room for it when it happens.
- If possible, keep in contact with some people from the other parent’s side of the family.
What if our child says they do not want to spend time with the other parent? Should I make our child go?
Remember, children will often say they do not want to go for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with how they feel about the other parent. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that things are bad for your child with the other parent, but it is best to know the truth.. Your child may have difficulty with the change, may be reluctant to leave friends, may feel sad about leaving you or may be saying what they think you would like to hear. By encouraging your child to think about what they love best about being with the other parent, you are giving them permission to love that parent without being worried about hurting you. By considering your child’s opinion about what is important to them in the parenting schedule, you are giving your child a voice (not a choice) that may give you some insight into their feelings.
What if I am a parent who wants to see the children, but the children don’t want to see me?
This is always a difficult issue for parents and families to work through, because the reasons why a child might be reluctant to spend time with a parent are often complex and hard to see clearly or accept.
- Often, children are able to say what kind of contact they would like, such as texting, phone calls or seeing a parent with a trusted adult. Often, a parent will have a hard time accepting the child’s decision. It is up to parents to listen carefully, and see these forms of communication as places to start and maintain some level of contact.
- Children often cope by avoiding uncomfortable situations. Both parents need to watch for this tendency and find ways to do their parts to help make the shifts between the homes easier for the children.
- Remember children’s birthdays and other special occasions. Keep saying, “I love you.”
- Be patient. If you did hurtful things to their other parent, were not always involved when you were living with them, or mishandled some things as part of your separation, the children will need some time to heal and decide if it is emotionally safe to be with you. Healing and feeling safe for children will likely only occur if a parent takes responsibility for their behaviors, apologizes and makes up for it. All of this takes time for trust to build or rebuild. If you are ready to be a positive presence in your children’s life, and make the needed changes, keep letting them know that and showing them you will not try to force the issue, but you will continue to make a positive effort.
- If you need help to address this issue with your co-parent, try mediation or family counselling with someone who is familiar with handling high conflict situations.
- Contact a counsellor to help you cope.
Is it true that if our child spends time with their other parent for longer periods, they will become less attached to me?
- There are a lot of confusing beliefs about attachment. It is true that children need regular and consistent time with their primary caregiver(s), especially when they are babies. When children do not have enough access to the caregiver they know best, and who knows them best, they will express their distress. If the separations are long and filled with conflict, the child may express attachment difficulties. However, children can become securely attached to more than one person at the same time. If they have relationships with a second, or even a third person, who takes good care of them, and provides for their needs (e.g., when hungry, tired, anxious, or upset), they will develop close connections to those people. Keep in mind that these close connections need not take away from their relationship with their primary caregiver. What is most important is that the parent who is less used to spending time with the child is very familiar with the child’s routines. Healthy co-parenting involves sharing information in a safe way. Ideally, parenting time is built around the child’s eating and sleeping routines, not parents’ work schedules or desires. More hands-on involvement by a less familiar parent can be introduced gradually, with careful monitoring of the child’s reactions and comfort.
- Keep in mind that what might be stressful for a child at a younger age, is less likely to bother them as they get older.
How can I support my child(ren) and my grandchild(ren) while they are going through a separation/divorce?
- Respect their roles as decision-makers and follow their rules. Don’t give advice.
- Offer support to both parents, without strings attached.
- Ask them what they need and do what you can to help.
- Listen without judgment or blame toward either parent. Don’t take sides.
- Listen to the children. Do not say bad things about either parent in front of them.
- Respect their grieving process. Allow them to be sad or angry or in denial as long as they need to be.
- Be positive about the future. Families grieve and need time to adjust and rebuild.
What can I do if my access to my grandchildren changes because of my adult child’s separation/divorce?
- You are not alone.
- Maintain a polite relationship with your adult child, their co-parent, and any new partners that may enter the family going forward.
- Giving unwanted advice will not be appreciated.
- Remain calm when the parents seem to push your buttons.
- Respect your adult child’s role as a parent.
- Make the most of every opportunity to be with your grandkids.
- Start with whatever access you have and build from there.
- Be understanding when it comes to special occasions. Traditions may not be the same. Keep making the times when you can celebrate together special.
- Go to court as a last resort. It is emotionally, financially and physically draining.
- Take care of yourself.
- Get counselling.
How can I tell if our child is reacting to the separation or divorce or to something else?
Often, signs of stress look the same in a person, regardless of the cause. Step back and count the number of changes your child is making, and what kinds of changes are happening to the people around them. Sometimes, many small stresses add up to bigger ones. During times of stress, it would not be unusual for some of a child’s upset to seem exaggerated.
Review the time sharing options for your child’s age. Does your parenting time schedule follow the guidelines recommended in the Parenting Plans section of For the Sake of the Children course, or is it something quite different? Even if you and your co-parent are comfortable with a certain parenting schedule, your child might need you to pace the changes more slowly.
What is the level of conflict? Has there been more conflict between yourselves as co-parents? Make adjustments, as needed. Perhaps, transitions may need to change from going from a parent’s home to a neutral location, or by going directly from day care or school to be with the other parent to reduce the child’s stress.
If you make changes and do not see much improvement in the child’s stress level, talk to your pediatrician, a child psychologist, or a family counsellor. This is especially so if you feel unable to cope with the child’s emotions.
Review the Ways to Promote Positive Coping in the For the Sake of the Children e-course. You may also want to look at the Age-by-Age Guidelines in the course, or those available in the federal publication Making Plans.
Our child has a slow-to-warm-up temperament. How can we help our child with the transitions between homes? For example, would it be confusing for our child if the other parent were to spend time with them in the family home as a first step?
Your child’s temperament may make moving between homes harder, but a lot also depends on the child’s age and what kinds of support are in place. Work together to figure out all of the things you could each do, separately and together, to make the schedule comfortable for them. If they are preschool-age or older, talk to them about what is hard and what feels O.K. about moving between homes or any two places. Ask your child what will help them feel better about making changes.
For a younger child, and where there has been no history of parenting together, parenting time might begin in the primary care parent’s home, if it is safe to do so. Slowly increase that time and move to the other parent’s space, once sufficient trust is built. A mix of short stays, with longer care periods, may be a way or next step to help in the transition process.
What should I do if the other parent talks to our children about the separation, or about me, in a way that is not healthy or appropriate for our child’s age?
Try to talk privately with the other parent about the issue, if it is safe to do so. If your communication with each other is challenging or difficult, you may want to write a letter or email, which lets you carefully choose your words and allows the other person to think about the message without becoming defensive, or responding to you in a negative way. If you are working with a mediator or lawyer, that person may also be helpful in setting ground rules” for talking or making decisions together. If none of this is successful, remember that you could not control the other parent’s behavior when you were in a relationship, and you won’t be able to do so now. Your attention is better spent on your relationship with your child.
When do most children get to the point of being able to put the separation/divorce behind them?
Separation or divorce is a process, not a single event. Parents’ own processes of feeling better after a separation or divorce often takes two to three years. It takes children this long, too. Though your children’s feelings about the separation or divorce will become less raw over time, you should not expect them to go away completely. They may continue to have questions, or feel upset that things are different than they once were. The more anger and disagreement there is between the other parent and you, the longer it will take your child to adjust, and the harder it will be for them to look forward to the future.
How can I get the other parent to start following the guidelines we learned in the For the Sake of the Children course?
Focus on what you can control — your relationship with your child. Though you may see plenty of room for improvement in the other parent’s parenting, you will not succeed in telling them what to do. You can talk together about the guidelines, and how they made you feel, and what you hope can happen for your child and yourself, and see if that opens the door to conversation. You also can ask your co-parent to join you in mediation or counseling to try to put some of the guidelines into practice. Mostly, you can try to behave well and see if your example encourages your co-parent to act like you.
The course information suggests that we make changes slowly. But it took us forever to separate, and I am now involved in a good relationship with someone else. I think this is the real deal and I want our child to know who it is that I am spending so much time with. Don’t you think hiding the relationship is worse than introducing it?
Like all things related to separation and divorce, the best answer is “it depends.” Generally, introducing someone new too soon can make it much harder for your child and that person to have a relationship. Your child needs enough time that they do not feel disloyal to their other parent. If the new person enters the family at, or right after, the separation, they may be blamed — fairly or unfairly — for being part of the break-up. Also, you need time to make sure you are not just on the rebound — falling for the first person who makes you feel good at a time when you feel most vulnerable. Another break-up will be hard on both you and your children. It is best to take your time.
The Legal System
How can a parenting plan be enforced?
Whether a parenting plan is a written agreement or part of a court order, the intent and goal is to have a stable plan for as long as it is working for the children and the parents. If problems arise, you can first go to the person you specified in your plan as someone who could help resolve your dispute. Ideally, both parents will go together with the goal of working out the problem. Discuss possible adjustments to improve the plan. If that doesn’t work, parents can discuss the problem with their lawyers.
If parents decide to take the matter to court, it is important to follow the plan wherever possible, until the court makes a change. Sometimes, the court will request more information, in the form of a family evaluation, to help make a decision that is in the best interests of the children.
Can parenting time ever be denied by the Court?
In most situations, children have the right to spend time with both parents, regardless of how you feel about each other. In certain circumstances (e.g., when a parent abuses/neglects a child, or abuses alcohol or drugs), the Court places conditions on the parent’s parenting time to keep the child safe when they are with that parent. For example, the Court may order that the parenting time must be supervised, or that the parent must not consume alcohol during parenting time. The Court will only deny parenting time in the most extreme cases.
What if our child’s other parent makes my parenting time difficult or impossible?
Generally, a parent has no right to interfere with the other parent’s parenting time. If a parent that the children live with most of the time will not allow the other parent to see the children, a court may specify steps that to resolve the situation.
Can I refuse parenting time to our child’s other parent if they do not pay child support?
No. Although it might seem like a fair exchange to you when you are angry or when you feel sympathetic toward your child, there is no legal connection between parenting time and whether or not child support is being paid.
What if my income changes and I can no longer pay the same amount of child support?
- Parents often review their child support annually and make adjustments to the payments if changes have occurred over the year. When circumstances change, such as significant income increases or decreases, the parents may need to renegotiate child support right away.
- Using the tables and your new income, determine the child support amount and discuss this with the other parent to see if an agreement can be reached about a change in payment. You may choose to use a form of dispute resolution (e.g., mediation) to help in the discussion.
- If there is a court order in place that sets out your child support obligation, you may decide to have that order revised. Resolution Services, or your lawyer, can help you with this. If the child support order is registered with the Maintenance Enforcement Program, you must contact the program office to make sure its staff have the information and documents needed to administer the correct amount of child support. In many cases, this will require that you apply to the court to change (vary) your court order.
- You may be eligible for the Child Support Service, which adjusts (recalculates) child support, based on the parties’ income information. In most cases, the service adjusts regularly, based on the anniversary of when the child support order was first granted.
For whom does mediation work best?
Family mediation is successful in resolving differences between parents. Parents come to an agreement between 50 to90 per cent of the time, with most reports showing about an 80 per cent success rate and high client satisfaction with the process. Mediation is effective whether it takes place early or later in the legal process, though most experts agree that beginning mediation earlier is best.
But, sometimes, mediation is not successful. When one or both parents distrust each other very strongly, cannot see the value of a parent’s ongoing involvement in a child’s life, or holds back important financial information or information about the child, it is less likely that an agreement will be reached. When there is ongoing conflict between parents, the mediator or mediators must have experience working with high conflict situations to understand the situation and help the parents cope. When there is a history of family violence, mediation is usually not recommended. It can sometimes still work for families if the violence has stopped, the perpetrators have each received counselling and support to address the violence, the violence has stopped, and the mediator(s) has specialized training in working with families with a history of family violence.
What is the difference between mediation and collaborative family law?
- In mediation, a third person who stays neutral helps you reach decisions. In collaborative family law, both parents are represented by lawyers.
- In mediation, the mediator does not give legal advice or advocate for either parent. Agreements are prepared by the mediator, and then parents may review the agreements with lawyers before submitting the documents to the Court. Lawyers are present throughout the collaborative law process.
- Mediation has been used most often in low to moderate conflict situations. Couples with greater levels of conflict can use mediation if they stay focused on the needs of their children. Those who want to avoid court, yet need a guide or advocate to help them in their discussions, may find collaborative family law better for their situation.
If I agree to shared parenting (and residences), won’t I get less child support?
The kind of parenting time arrangement in place does affect child support calculations. The idea is that if your co-parent wants shared custody, they will be spending more time with the children and will be responsible for related expenses. If the Court is asked to set child support in a shared parenting case, it will look at the child support table amount based on each parent’s income, the increased cost of shared parenting time, including expenses each parent pays for the children, and the condition, means, needs and circumstances of each parent and the child.
If you are considering a shared parenting arrangement, consider calling a lawyer, who can help you decide if the change is a good one for you financially and figure out how the balance between caring for the children and child support is best handled between the two of you.
What type of parenting arrangement is best for our child?
There is no one size fits all parenting arrangement that works for all children or all families. An arrangement that works well for your child today may no longer work for your child (or your family) in six months or a year.
Is a parenting plan always necessary?
Developing a parenting plan is recommended, regardless of the approach you use to negotiate and reorganize your parenting responsibilities
Considering what is important to your children and yourselves as parents, and discussing those issues early on, provides more time for each of you to make and consider proposals. Creating a good parenting plan will help you think about your children’s needs and how you will continue to parent them separately and together.
Negotiating a detailed parenting plan is strongly encouraged, especially if you are experiencing high levels of conflict as co-parents, or are worried that you are headed in that direction. Even for parents with few disagreements or communication challenges, a parenting plan could be something you fall back on during periods of higher stress.
A parenting plan is a requirement to proceed in the Manitoba court in cases where parents do not agree on parenting arrangements. Each parent must complete a parenting plan in these situations.
When should our very young child begin overnight stays or longer care periods with their other parent, especially if I have been the one to provide much of the hands on care to date?
There is no one answer to this question. It depends on your child’s age, temperament, how you and your co-parent are getting along, and many other factors. Almost every expert agrees that by the age of three, children are fine with stays. Many experts think it is fine to start overnighters when children are babies, if parents handle them sensitively (e.g., similar eating and sleeping schedules between homes) and if the less-seen parent is very familiar with the child and their routines.
Most of all, if parents and children are connected with each other — that is, the parent wanting overnights has been involved in the child’s care and the child recognizes them and responds to their presence – then it is more likely that your child will benefit from overnight stays. Longer stays can be introduced slowly, with parents monitoring how their child is responding.
Often, the schedule will seem too long for one parent and too short or not soon enough for the other. Time spent together on a very regular basis (daily, if possible, or every second or third day), with some occasional overnights, may be considered. The less-seen parent and child can get to know each other better in the special ways that nighttime routines (e.g., eating, bathing, sleeping) provide.
At what age should children be given a say?
Even very young children can say what they prefer on small matters (e.g., what toys to bring to their new home, what color to paint their new room). School-age children should be given a voice about which social or sports activities they prefer. Adolescents usually want to express their ideas on bigger matters (e.g., where to go to school and where to be on weekends). The court does consider the thoughts and wishes of a child, taking into account the child’s age and level of maturity, as well as other factors. While there is no specific age at which a child should be given a say, the more mature and older the child, the greater the consideration.
If you aren’t sure about how to give your children a voice, without your children saying what they think adults need to hear, you should ask for help from a mediator, child development specialist or a counselor.
Our child is enrolled in a number of extra-curricular activities, which they love. Now that we‘re living apart as parents, my co-parent feels these activities are taking away from their parenting time. They do not think it will hurt if our child misses some classes and games. What can we do?
It is understandable that a parent would want to have as much quality time with a child as possible, no matter what might be happening in the family. This wish is probably more apparent now, as your child needs to share their time and world between two households. Staying focused on your child’s needs as parents, being flexible, and actively listening to understand each other’s concerns are essential as you try to work through what will work best for all. If you need help with any of these co-parenting tasks, a mediator or parent coach could help.
At what point in the process should a child be asked for their input, and about what?
Some children will have strong opinions from the very start. Others will need to see what a new situation feels like before knowing how they feel about it. A mediator or child development specialist can be very helpful in these situations. It usually takes only a couple of meetings to get a professional opinion. Children also will give you clues about when they are ready to talk. Just follow their lead. Children should not be asked if there should be a separation or divorce, or with which parent they want to live. Putting a child in one of these positions is stressful. Other than this, children can be asked for their opinions on many topics. Younger children may be asked about simpler choices, whereas older children may be asked about more complex choices, such as the schedule of spending time with each parent.
When talking to children about their ideas, parents should remind and reassure children that final decisions are up to the parents.
What if there have been physical assaults or yelling, screaming, insults or put-downs in our house? My child’s other parent is seeking regular periods of parenting time, but it feels dangerous to me.
When there has been abuse or intimate partner violence in your house, either physical or emotional, this changes how you would go about making a parenting plan. It is not in the children’s best interests to follow a plan in which one parent, or the children themselves, do not feel safe. If this is happening, you should insist that you involve a professional counselor, mediator with experience in high conflict divorce and intimate personal violence, or a lawyer before agreeing to any plan or change in plans. If you are too afraid to stand your ground on this, get help.
If anyone in the home is in danger, call 911. If you, or someone you know, is being abused, call the confidential 24/7 provincial toll-free crisis line at: 1-877-977-0007.
If you are not sure if a behavior is harmful to a child, call CFS at 1-866-345-9241 for more information. When children have witnessed abuse, CFS can do an assessment for child protection.
Resources to address intimate partner violence can be found on the Family Law Manitoba website at www.manitoba.ca/familylaw/safety/. For more information or help, contact a family guide at GetGuidance@gov.mb.ca or 204-945-2313 in Winnipeg; toll-free 1-844-808-2313 in Manitoba.