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Visiting the Weekend Parent

Following a few simple rules can improve the quality of weekend visits, although hard problems will continue to arise from time to time. Here's help.

Take steps to make your child feel welcome in both places.

Every Friday afternoon, millions of children all over America prepare for weekend visits with their "other" parents. Here are some of the most common questions parents ask about this subject.

Q. Of all the custody and visitation options, which is best for my child?

A. No one arrangement is best for every family. Most family counselors recommend that a child have a primary place of residence, with visitation occurring at least every other weekend, and for longer periods during holidays and in the summer. As time passes, your child's needs, schedule, and desires change, as do your own. Review your visitation agreement periodically to assure that it remains in everyone's best interests.

Q. Is joint custody better than split custody?

A. In joint custody, both parents accept continuing equal responsibility for the raising of the child. To make it work, the parents must respect one another and communicate. This climate of harmony, in which the child is free to express love for both parents, is always the most desirable.

Split custody, where the child spends equal time with each parent, is potentially the most unstable and disruptive setup. The child may find it hard to form stable friendships with peers and may spend too much time traveling and adjusting. Many parents opt not to consider split custody until children are old enough to participate responsibly in the decision.

Q. What should we do if our child refuses to visit the noncustodial parent?

A. The answer depends on why the child won't go. If your relationship with your ex-spouse is tense, your child may express insecurity by not cooperating with visitation. The problem may require family counseling.

Occasionally, a child won't want to go even though there is a good parental relationship. Unless the problem involves definite misconduct on the part of your ex-spouse, however, let the child know that refusing visitation is not an option.

Encourage your child to express his or her feelings directly to the noncustodial parent. Only if the child needs help resolving the problem should you bring the other parent in on the discussion. Approach these talks in a supportive, rather than accusatory, manner.

Q. What should be the stepparent's role during visitation?

A. Although their visit is a special event, children must learn that the marriage is the central relationship in the noncustodial parent's home. Expect the children to have some problem adjusting to their new status, and to express initial resentment and jealousy toward the stepparent.

Children should be expected to accord equal respect to parents and stepparents alike, but natural parents should assume primary responsibility for discipline when the children do not live in the home.

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