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In response to: How young is too young for week-about access?

January 7, 2014

I circulated my blog, “How young is too young for week-about access?”, to some 300 family lawyers. I received several thank yous, links from other websites and blogs, one admonition and two very interesting comments that asked for my response.

Here is the original blog:

Here are the two comments and my responses:



Interesting article.  I can’t take issue with the science or the logic behind your views.  A progressive movement from a primary attachment parent towards something that looks like week-about, once the child gets to be mature enough to handle that makes sense to everyone.

The biggest impediment in the legal system to actually accomplishing this, however, is that infernal “status-quo” principle that our judiciary have relied upon for decades.  “if it ain’t demonstrably broke, don’t ask us to fix it”, is the standard refrain from judges.

The main reason lawyers advise their clients to get what they ultimately want, right from the beginning, is that we know from bitter experience, if you come along later and say,  “it’s time now to increase the access to week-about as we discussed and agreed a few years ago,”  there will be no support from the court system if the other parent then reneges and says, “I think everything is fine the way it is.  I’m not longer willing to increase your access. ”

Until we lawyers can reliably put those kinds of graduated provisions in agreements and orders, and judges will reliably enforce them, the kind of conflict you have described will inevitably continue, even though it is not good for the children involved.  I’d like to hear your thoughts on the “status quo” principle and its efficacy as a judicial tool..


I too have come up against the “status quo” argument. The challenge, should this matter proceed to trial, is to educate the judge on the developmental trajectory of the child, subject to certain parental conditions. The social science literature supports the meaningful involvement of both parents and that from a gender perspective and assuming a heterosexual parental couple, both men and women bring certain protective factors to their children, particular come adolescence.

Given it is predominantly fathers who are subject to less access, I will speak from a father involvement perspective. Father involvement is protective against early onset sexual behavior in girls and drug/alcohol as well as delinquent behavior in boys. (Any of these issues, should they arise are tremendous risk factors for ongoing development for many reasons I won’t go into at this time.)

So, the most we can do is continue to educate the judiciary and then unfortunately, hope for the best should this matter proceed to trial. BTW – That is why it is also prudent to have clear/concise well written settlement agreements and Certificates of Independent Legal Advice with regard to those agreements. Further, the rationale for the agreement should be included to demonstrate to the judge the forethought that was given.

From the perspective of someone who helps develop parenting plans, I think it also important that we (mental health professionals, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists)) include more developmental provisions in parenting plans, so we cumulatively educate the public and decision makers.

Lastly, the parent who has trouble letting go to effect the change in the quantum of time the child resides between them, may require emotional support to facilitate the plan. Us older folks may remember the challenge of letting go when our children first went to daycare, then kindergarten, then seeing them less in high school and eventually off to college. These can be difficult developmental transitions for any parent. I know I shed a tear when our son left home for university.

Rather than viewing that parent as intransigent, perhaps appreciating the pain of letting go, showing compassion and understanding would be more helpful. Castigating that parent as someone who cannot be trusted for breaching the contract would only escalate conflict and cause that parent to hold more dearly to their child. Joint counseling may be helpful so both could appreciate the emotional issues involved for the other.  They may just reach a new agreement in view of appreciating each others issues.



First, let me say that I agree with your opinion that week about access for very young children is contra-indicated and can be “torture” for them. But what if that’s what BOTH parents want?

Anything else would then introduce a conflict between the parents which, in my view, is  intrinsically worse than the non-ideal schedule.

In my practice, my primary objective is to reduce conflict and I would accede to the parents’ joint wishes, after alerting them to the types of concerns you mention.  Do you agree with that approach?

I have a file where the parents want week about access for a 3 year old and a 1 year old!  We haven’t even met yet, but I plan to suggest shorter periods with each parent, even if the time is 50/50.  Does that make sense to you? Even 3days/4days seems too long to me but would be an improvement, in my opinion.

Your insights are always welcome.


Firstly, let me say that although the plan is misguided,I am pleased the parents are at least in agreement to both be meaningfully involved in the care of their children and that this is not subject to dispute. It is true that parental conflict is the single best predictor of poor outcomes for children subject to parental separation. However, in the situation described, it is not just this, but, this and that.

Again, education is central to facilitating a good outcome. As per my blog, I explain the dynamic of a young child moving back and forth between parents from a cognitive/developmental perspective. I explain that developmentally, the infant and toddler do not possess the cognitive capacity to maintain a constant image of the absent parent for a week’s duration. Hence, as the child just gets settled in with one parent, they are uprooted, plunked into the home of the other only to shortly thereafter miss the absent parent.

As the child eventually settles back in a few days later, the child is then transferred back to the first parent, only to then go through the emotional pain of now missing the second parent.

From the young child’s experience, this is tantamount to emotional abuse, even though inadvertent.

Having seen well-intentioned but misguided parenting plans, the children surface with toileting problems, sleep and eating disturbances, appear inconsolable at times and behaviorally challenging or alternately, withdrawn and disengaged. As the child surfaces with these problems, the parents are at risk of blaming each other of poor parental care, rather than appreciating the outcome is an artifact of their joint decision with an inappropriate parenting plan.

This is not to say that parents cannot share equally in the care of such young children, but it will be challenging.

Joint care requires more frequent contact with each parent, preferably daily for the one-year-old, if not, then every other day. To effect such a plan requires tremendous tolerance for the inconvenience this can impose upon the parents. It also requires a reasonable relationship between the separated parents and a good ability to communicate effectively.

If either parent is in a new relationship, it will also require tolerance on the part of the new partner because the separated parents will be seeing a lot of each other and this can create insecurity in a fledgling relationship. So to make this work, the parents must come to appreciate the cognitive limitations of the child from a developmental perspective and be prepared to accommodate or face likely consequences. Alternately, one parents can stand down, provide the child a primary attachment figure and allow for a progression to a more equalized care arrangement as the child ages.


The real goals of parenting should be well adjusted and responsible persons come adulthood with whom the parents can enjoy a lifelong healthy relationship!

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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