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How to support and be there for your child, when you live separately from the child?

Karl and Anna have two minor children. After the end of their relationship, the children stayed to live with their mother. After an emotionally exhausting breakup, the relationship between the parents is strained. For almost half a year, Anna has not answered Karl's letters and telephone calls. Although Karl's only wish is to continue to be a good father to his children, Anna refuses to communicate with Karl about children or to make agreements about them.

When a parent does not live with the child on a daily basis, is it no longer possible to be a parent or to take part in the child's life without going to court?

Pursuant to § 116 (1) of the Estonian Family Law Act, parents have equal rights and obligations towards their children. Under subsection 2 of the same provision, a parent has the obligation and the right to care for his or her minor child (parent's right of custody). The parent's right of custody includes the right to care for the person of the child (custody over person) and for the property of the child (hereinafter custody over property) and decide on matters related to the child.

Pursuant to § 124 (1) of the Family Law Act, custody over a person is the obligation and right of a caregiver to raise a child, exercise supervision over him or her, ascertain the whereabouts of the child and take care of the all-round well-being of the child in any other manner.

A child has the right to maintain personal contact with both parents and both parents have the right and obligation to maintain personal contact with their child.

The rights and obligations of a parent over their child hold true regardless of whether the parent lives with the child or not, unless the parent's rights have been restricted by a court.

In a situation where one parent does not cooperate with the other parent in matters related to the child and does not contribute to maintaining the close relationship between the parent and the child, the other parent has the opportunity to actively participate in the child's life in other ways, regardless of taking the matters to the court or not. Here are some suggestions on how to do this:

Participate in activities related to the child's kindergarten - communicate with kindergarten teachers; be on the parents' mailing list; join the parents/kindergarten group's social media account; become a user of the kindergarten information system ELIIS (if your child's kindergarten has joined it); attend parents' meetings, attend child development interviews; take an interest in who your child is friends with and who are their parents; go to a child's kindergarten friends' birthday, etc.

Participate in the child's hobbies - interact with coaches/teachers; watch the child's workouts, competitions and performances; arrange the transportation to and from the activity; if there are activities you can do together, then do it.

Participate in the child's school activities - communicate with teachers; be on the parents' mailing list; follow the social media account of the school/class; become a user of the school information system E-school; attend parents meetings and child's developmental interviews; participate in extracurricular activities and offer help in extracurricular activities; attend father/mother's day concerts and other events organised for parents; show interest in who are your child's friends and their parents; allow the child to attend the friends' birthday; arrange transportation, etc.

Take care of your child's health - see your child's doctor; take an interest in his or her health; talk to his or her family doctor if the child becomes ill; take a sick leave and be at home with the child; if your child needs specialist help, make sure the child gets it.

Be there for the child - if it is not physically possible to meet every day, you can also communicate with the child by phone or other means of communication (depending on the age of the child), including Messenger, WhatsApp, etc. Use this opportunity not only to ask how the child is doing or what he or she is currently doing, but also to study with the child or resolve any other issues that are important to the child at a given time. The child must know that he or she always has the right and opportunity to call the parent, and that parent is there for him or her, even to bring the chalk left behind in the middle of the school day.

Relationships between parents can be extremely complicated. It is important that the child feels and knows that he or she has two parents who love him or her, regardless of whether they live together or separately. The parents, who have the best interests of the child in mind, work together during the relationship and after their relationship ends. It is very important that the parent living with the child supports and contributes to maintaining a close relationship between the child and the parent living separately. This is especially important for the child. However, if the parent living with the child does not cooperate, the other parent has a number of opportunities to have an active role in the child's life, regardless of whether the visiting schedule has been established through the court or the court has made any changes to the joint custody.

This article was originally published on November 16, 2020 in https://ajakiri.lastekaitseliit.ee/2020/11/16/kuidas-olla-lapsevanemana-oma-lapsele-toeks-kui-sa-ei-ela-lapsega-koos/

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