Professional Standards

Shared Time for Infants

A policy document by the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc. provides guidelines for the following situations:

  • overnight stays for infants under 2 years away from a primary caregivers can create increased stress for the infant and should occur only when necessary
  • a child is ready for overnight stays when the child can: calm self, use the second parent to become soothed, understand what is being said, anticipate events that occur the next day, and communicate own feelings and basic needs in a manner that is understood by the parent (age of child).
  • parents who seek overnight stays needs to have a child focused by: communicating with their ex-partner without distressing the child, showing trust that the other parent will care responsibly for the child, and talking positively to the child about the other parent.

If both parents can demonstrate that they have fulfilled the role of being a primary carer for an infant, then both parents have a case to care for the infant on overnight stays.


Time Spent and Age

The following standards are proposed for changes in time a child spends with separated parents as the child grows older (age of child):

  • Infants of tender years commonly spend most time with the parent who is the primary carer with whom the child has developed a strong attachment bond, with frequent visits with the other parent (up to 3 visits per week) of about 1-3 hours designed to suit the child’s routine.
  • Toddlers aged 2-3 years commonly live with one parent and may spend overnight stays with the other parent when there is sufficient interest as regular contact establishes an emotional attachment.   Contact should occur frequently (2/week) and may progress to 8 hours.  The child commonly takes some familiar possessions on stays.  Extended family members may be involved in child care.
  • Kindergarten aged children (3-6 years) who have a good bond with both parents are encouraged to spend regular time with both parents and with other family members.  Changeovers or handovers are organised to minimise separation tensions, and are predictable for the child.  Overnight stays are common when the child has its own bedroom.
  • Mid-childhood 6-9 years may spend longer periods with each parent (2-3 days) with less frequent changeovers (fortnightly).  Children want to include some time with friends.  A parent who can take a child to regular after-hours activities may take on more responsibility for these extracurricula activities.
  • Children 10-12 years commonly have a significant influence on decisions about how much time they spend with each parent and with friends.
  • Teenagers (13+ years) are commonly found to have the maturity to make their own decisions about times they will spend with each parent when parents are separated (capacity to decide).


Skills required for co-parenting arrangements are:

  • both parents have equal shared parental responsibility for the child, as both parents participate in joint decision making on major topics that have a long term effect on the child
  • both parents encourage the child to develop and maintain a close meaningful relationship with the other parent
  • parents maintain a friendly relationship and are able to communicate respectfully about their child, show a willingness to consult about their child, and are flexible in making decisions in the best interests of their child
  • both parents keep their child safe
  • both parents provide opportunities for the child to develop
  • both parents ensure they are capable of meeting the needs of the child (parenting capacity).


Types of Co-parenting

Family professionals distinguish two types of co-parenting:

  • collaborative parenting, where both parents follow practices that are so similar that the child’s lifestyle is consistent when the child moves between households and the child is not required to make significant adjustments between the two households
  • parallel parenting, where each parent has different rules while the child is in their house, so the child has to make noticeable adjustments when moving between the households.  In parallel parenting the two parents know the rules in the other household and support the other rules.

Courts have ruled that it is not appropriate for one parent to try to impose specific parenting practices on the other parent while the child is in the care of the other parent but instead Courts allow each parent to make decisions about the daily welfare of the child while the child is in heir care, unless the parenting practices amount to neglect or negligence.

Parents who do not discuss parenting practices in the other household are described as non-interacting families.

Difficulties for co-parenting

Co-parenting becomes more difficult if parents:

  • involve children in discussing disputes between the parents about matters that affect the child, as this encourages the child to take sides in disputes about adult topics and to feel responsible for adult matters
  • make denigrating or derogatory remarks about the other parent
  • hold such strong beliefs or fixed views and refusing to be swayed by the other parent so that collaborative decisions cannot be made about important topics
  • not participate in making decisions about major long term issues that affect a child.

Scale of Contact

Some professionals support the following scale of contact-time that guides access arrangements for children of different ages, as shown below (age of child).

Scale of Contact between Parent and Child

Increasing Contact Arrangements

Common ages of children

Unsupervised time of up to about 3 hours1-12 months
Unsupervised time of about 8 hours, 2-3 times per week1–18 months
1-2 overnight stays per fortnight2-3 years
2-3 overnight stays per fortnight3-6 years
30% + of nights7+ years
Structured communication by letter or phoneDistinctive factors only
Supervised timeDistinctive factors only


The times shown in the handout are a guide only and are varied according to special factors, such as special needs of a child, or special circumstances of a parent.

More restrictive arrangements may be used when distinctive factors arise that produce concern about child protection.

The table shows a pattern where a parent steadily increases their involvement with a child over a period of years.

Parents who seek regular contact with a young child are expected to co-parent by:

  • show respect towards the other parent when communicating about the child’s needs
  • show the child they trust the other parent to care adequately for the child
  • not involve the child in any conflict, especially at handovers
  • actively encourage the child to maintain a meaningful relationship with the other parent.

Parental shortcomings in the topics above can result in delays in commencement of overnight stays.