I frequently get asked how children should share their time between their parents. More parents agree or demand from the other that they have equal time. I have seen numerous variations of how that is done in practice, for example:
- One week with each parent.
- 3 days with each parent in turn, or 4 days with each parent in turn.
- Week days in turn with each parent.
- Complicated schedules where over a two or three week period weekdays and weekends are evened out but there are frequent changes.
Any solution you agree must work for the children and must be practical depending on your work schedules. So alternate weekends make little sense to a parent who has to work every third weekend for example.
None of the above solutions seems satisfactory to me. A week with each parent means a child has to take all of their belongings and school kit with them each week and does not see the other parent for a long time. This may work where parents are still close and live close by and a child can nip over to the other house to get some stuff they may have forgotten, but could be a strain in other cases. All other suggestions seem very disruptive with children not knowing whether they are coming or going.
What seems to work for a lot of families, however, (assuming both parents work regular office hours or something close to that) is this system:
- Alternate weekends from Friday to either Sunday night or Monday to school/nursery. If this is to Monday that would be 3 nights in 14.
- The same weekdays with each parent in one chunk, i.e. Mondays and Tuesday with one and Wednesdays and Thursdays with the other parent. This means 2 nights a week or 4 nights a fortnight. Together with the weekends those are 7 nights a fortnight and exactly equal.
- Equal division of holidays.
The advantages of this system are:
- Weekends are alternating so parents can actually make plans and go away with the children overnight if they want, say to visit family or go to the seaside etc. Or they could just have a lie-in/pyjama morning lounging around of course.
- Most children have some after-school activities (sports or music lessons etc) and with this system the same activity will be with the same parent, e.g. “mum will always take me to football training on Tuesdays”. This also applies to the school timetable.
- Children seem to be able to remember which parent they have been with each weekend, so alternating weekends are a system they can follow. They also seem to be able to remember days of the week and so this system is something they can follow without having to consult a calendar or having an adult tell them. They can make plans, such as inviting a friend around to play (or for revision) Thursday next week without having to think where that would be or who they would need to ask.
- There are only two handovers each week and they can, if necessary be through the school or nursery so parents do not have to meet, which can help if this has been a problem in the past.
- A child will spend at most 2 nights plus a weekend (5 nights) with one parent, so is not away from the other for longer than that.
So it’s a system that’s easy to follow for children and allows whole weekends with each parent.
Even in cases where there is no insistence on equal division, this system can work in a modified form, i.e.
- Alternate weekends from Friday to Sunday night with each parent
- Thursday night with one parent, the rest with the other.
This means that each alternate weekend the child is with the other parent from Thursday to Sunday night. This system could later move to the one I described above in a way that seems very natural for the child.