24th Jan 2020

Part Two: How Should We Arrange Shared-Care Parenting?

By James Pirrie

Director James Pirrie looks at different models for co-parenting arrangements.

Please download the referred to models here

Part 2: Models

In the first part of the article, I looked at some of the early-period fears that are common for parents working out care of their children.  Such parents might have started with an arrangement something like this:

A significant part of the child’s time during term times is in white, at school and then care is showed being shared between one parent (in yellow) and the other (in green). Here the agreement is broadly one of those alternating weekend models.

The starter model

As regards the home-time, Here the child is based primarily with the parent, whose time is marked in yellow.  The other parent’s time is marked in green,

  1. perhaps there is an alternating weekend arrangement perhaps starting Saturday morning,
  2. or better is likely to be Friday from school with the child returning to the “main home” (for such it has become) probably on the Sunday night.

Over time this might be extended with

  1. A drop off at school on Monday morning
  2. Perhaps a Wednesday evening meet…
  3. Perhaps extending overnight to Thursday morning
  4. Or perhaps such Wednesdays happening each week … though here the child might start to feel a bit of a yo-yo toward the end of the week 1, with
    1. Wed am yellow
    2. Wed pm/ Thurs am green
    3. Thurs pm/ Fri am yellow
    4. Fri pm > weekend green

So should the evening meet become Tuesday instead?

The purpose of this additional time, however, it is constructed, is to break down the long period that otherwise exists between the child’s saying good-bye to the one parent on Sunday night and then not seeing that parent for perhaps a further eleven nights or longer until the following fortnightly weekend visit  It will be too long a gap for most, where parents are trying to meet the requirements of the principles discussed in part one of the article (found here) and those we consider below …

Even broken up by the Wednesday  [Tuesday] visit, the child risks being denied the relationship they need with that non-resident parent.

Over time, it is likely that matters will settle down – the parent in yellow might come to take the line “[the other parent] is not perfect but they are the only [other parent] the child will have and so probably we all just need to get on with it.”  In an ideal world, this need for change would be seen in a more positive light:

  • The opportunities that the yellow-parent ‘main carer’ would have, with the burdens of child-care being shared; and
  • The benefits the child would have from a closer relationship with the other [green] parent.

Other fixed points that dictate outcomes

Obviously this does not apply where there are authentic issues of capacity and or safety.  Further, there are a raft of arrangements that pretty much write themselves because of the fixed points of

  • Boarding school arrangements; or
  • Geography between the parents’ homes; or
  • Unavoidable work schedules or other time fixtures.

However, this still leaves a large portion of the separated parent population with the  fortunate circumstance of

  • close enough proximity to school or school transport and each other
  • flexible enough working days; and
  • equal engagement capacity in parenting responsibilities and children activities

to be able to look at authentic co-parenting options.

Moving towards co-parenting

In these circumstances, a new set of challenges click into place… seeking to respond to the requirements which might be listed:

  1. sufficient time with each parent
  2. avoiding long gaps between the child’s seeing each parent;
  3. avoiding a multiplicity of hand-overs
  4. creating a regime that makes sense to the child, which points towards simplicity and regularity
  5. aiming for children to share with each parent some of the perceived valuable times, which might be a Friday evening or Sunday evening.
  6. Finally, the system is going to need to be capable of resuming each time after the school half term or end of term holidays and should be capable of flexing around the scattering of bank holidays through the year so that these are shared without offending against the above principles as well as flexing around birthdays, mother’s day/ father’s day etc.

Model one:  The Extended fortnightly weekend arrangement

The first stopping point might be one that sees that alternating weekend arrangements extended, something like this:

So here the time with the green parent has extended probably by stages perhaps as long as from Thursday night until Tuesday morning.  Thinking about this by reference to the above six-fold criteria:

1 sufficient time 5/14 – might be seen as ok
2. long gaps Not so great … with 9 nights between being dropped off at school on Tuesday by ‘green’ parent in week 2, before the Thursday night of week 1 comes around again
3. avoiding multiple hand-overs  √
4. simple enough to make sense
5. sharing valuable times together √ – though depends on family norms
6. integrate-able with the calendar √ – whilst there are often difficulties, this model does ok.

Model 2: Week on week off

Seeking improvements, in particular to address the complaint by one parent that time is not fair, the week on – week off model might be turned to:

Sunday night change-over seems to work best, so:

Again, looking back on the six-fold criteria, it might be thought of as “sort of fine” on all bases save that it does involve long gaps … the child has – obviously – 6 overnights before seeing the parent again.

It might be made to work with other forms of contact going (WhatsApp, Facetime, Snapchat) and scoring well on the other criteria, it is unsurprising that it is adopted so often.

Model 3: More complex time-share models

In fact it can probably be improved upon and whilst there is the price of complexity and problems with integration, there are clear advantages of cutting down the long gaps by the sort of model that might look like this:

Here, there is a

  • From Wednesday after school until Friday to school in week 1
  • And then From Wednesday after school until Monday to school in week 2 (running into the start of week 2).

Model 4 A&B: [2-2-5-5 etc]

Finally and as a variant on this some, families are preferring to adopt the 2-2-5-5 model but with a turn and turn about Wednesday, because this might be significant, for example for activities or some other feature in which the parents accept there should be a shared arrangement.  This might be described 2- 1 ½ – 5 – 5 scheme.

Here as shown with a bold outline

  • Yellow parent has the children for 3 nights in week one, before green parent’s 4-day weekend; and
  • Green parent has the children for 3 nights in week 2 before the yellow parent’s 5 day weekend.

This model may be adopted to permit extension for the yellow parent to have alternating Fridays too, as marked as “A” below

What will be important in achieving these arrangements which can work better for the children is that the parents are able to separate themselves from their own sense of fifty-fifty-fairness, in favour of a structure that will feel meaningful and a better fit for their children.

James Pirrie is a director at Family Law in Partnership. He specialises in complex financial issues and non-adversarial and cost effective approaches to divorce and separation including mediation, arbitration and collaborative law. If you need advice regarding arrangements for your child/children, contact James at E: hello@flip.co.uk or T: 020 7420 5000.