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Federal Magistrates checklist for young children

Parenting arrangements for the 0-4 year age group, Checklist of questions, Legal Aid NSW Family Law Conference, Sydney, August 2011

Parenting arrangements for the 0-4 year age group, Checklist of questions,
Federal Magistrate (name withheld)

What are the questions we need to ask in parenting cases involving children in the 0-4 age group?

1. What do we know about this particular child?
    How old is the child? 3 years or 3 months can make a difference.
    What are the particular traits of this child?: what is the childs temperament? How does this child cope with change?
    What is the childs capacity for reflective functioning? Does the child have the capacity to form a clear plan with the parent (usually Mother) about the separation and reunion from and with that primary attachment figure.

2. What do we know about the relationship between the child and each parent?
   What is the nature of the relationship between the child and each parent? How old was the child when the parties separated? What are we building on?
   What were the arrangements pre-separation? If time with a parent has been sporadic or disrupted or even non-existent, very different from living with each parent full time until separation at say, nearly 3 years of age.

3. What do we know about the relationship between the parents?
   Are they communicating well and listening to each other? Do they trust and respect each other as parents?
   What has been observed at changeovers?
   Because separation and reunion from and to an attachment figure will trigger attachment responses in a child, what happens at changeover is very significant, and the number of transfers in any given period will be significant. So we need to ask:
   How is the child managing transitions? How does the child behave before and after?
   Does the child have an older sibling transferring with him/her? Overnights appear to be easier for young children when they have an older sibling going with them to ease the transition. That relationship itself will be an attachment relationship.

4. What is the quality of each partys parenting?
    How sensitive is each parent to the childs needs? Can the parent maintain a consistent routine for the child in such areas as meal times, eating habits, bedtime, bath time, sleeping habits, toileting. Of course, consistent routines are more likely to be achieved in 2 homes if the parents can talk to each other.
   What is each parents capacity for reflective functioning? That is: can each parent think from the childs point of view?
   What is each parents motivation for seeking more time? - to control the other parent?  child support?
   What is the level of anxiety in the resident parent about the child separating?

5. What is the quality of the childs relationships with extended family members and are the step parents and other extended family members supportive emotionally of the child?
   Whether step-mother, aunt, grandparent, that person must have the capacity for sensitive timely responses to the childs attachment cues in an ongoing way.

6. How practical are the proposed arrangements for a child of this age?
   Of course, as Cashmore and Parkinson point out, what is practical may not be what is optimal for the child.
   What distance is the child required to travel? It is unrealistic to expect a young child to manage long distance travel on a regular basis.
   Where would the time allocated have to be spent? In a park or shopping centre, or in a comfortable home?
   What are each partys working commitments, commuting times?
   Is the baby being breast fed?
   When does the child sleep during the day?
   Are there financial constraints?
   What is the childs weekly routine under the proposed regime? Is it manageable for that particular child in all the circumstances?
   How many caregivers are there?

7. What mental health issues, drug or alcohol issues need to be considered?
    Paul Lodge describes the substance dependent person as potentially an attachment nightmare.

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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Secretary spc, is this a guideline of how parenting arrangements are determined in cases?
If it is I would say it is great taking all these things into consideration.
Is it a NSW guideline or used all over Australia?
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