English courts used to be reluctant to make orders for shared care and they are sometimes still in the mindframe of a child living with one parent and having contact with the other when in fact both parents share care. So before April 2014 we saw shared residence orders with provisions for “contact” with the father. However, more and more parents agree to shared care and courts are now more willing to order it through the appropriate child arrangements order.
Shared care does not mean that time has to be equal and that is often not possible for practical reasons of work etc. The focus should be on the quality time a child spends with each parent, which includes downtime as well as daily routine. For those who are not looking at equal time, a pattern which often works well is:
- Alternative weekend from Friday to Sunday night with each parent,
- each Thursday night with one parent,
- the rest of the week with the other parent;
- Holidays shared equally.
This gives each parent a whole weekend, so if the weather is good, plans can be made for trips to the seaside, to visit grandparents and friends etc. It also means that in alternate weeks, there is a longer stretch from Thursday from school to Sunday night with that parent.
Some parents think equal time is best arranged by a one-week-on/one-week-off pattern. However, that means that the child will spend a week at a time away from the other parent, which especially for small children can be a long time. Others are thinking of patterns where the child alternates each day or every couple of days, which can be confusing for small children and also means there are a lot of “handovers”, which can be a potential for conflict. The following type of pattern over a two-week period seems to work well for a lot of families:
- Alternate weekends from Friday to Monday with each parent,
- Mondays and Tuesdays each week with one parent,
- Wednesdays and Thursdays each week with the other parent;
- Holidays equally with each parent.
In particular when there has been a potential for conflict at “handovers” it helps when the handover can instead be to/from school or nursery. Practically, arrangements may need to be made for a bag to be kept securely at the school, and most schools will agree to that.
This pattern means
- during term time the child will spend a maximum of five nights away from each parent at a time;
- if there are after-school activities (e.g. swimming, football, ballet classes etc.) the same parent will always take the child on that night of the week, which can be particularly important for smaller children where the parents stay at the venue during the activity;
- if one parent works longer hours, it also means that they can arrange the after-school club on those weekdays.
It is always best to try to avoid court proceedings of course because the judge can only make an order. An order does not enforce itself and if someone does not comply with the order or takes a “work-to-rule” approach, matters can continue to be difficult. There will also be issues arising in the future of a child’s life where parents have to work together.
Mediation is an inexpensive way to find solutions outside the court system and it is particularly suitable to resolve issues about children. This is why it is compulsory for anyone who wants to make an application to the court for a child arrangements order to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) first (with some exceptions). Our support page has a wealth of resources for parents to help them to parent together successfully, nurturing their child.
For advice on your specific circumstances contact Andrea Woelke at Alternative Family Law: ring us on 020 7407 4007 (+44 20 7407 4007 from abroad) or email us (stating your full name, the full name of the other person in your case and your telephone number on which we can call you).
Please note that we do not have a contract to take on cases on legal aid. To check if you may be able to get legal aid please go to this government website and contact a solicitor who has a legal aid contract.
10 August 2015 by Andrea Woelke