“Child Arrangements” refers to the division of time between the two parents. There is no right answer and each case is examined separately on its facts.
There are however a number of considerations and some typical patterns which occur:
If there are safeguarding issues such as domestic abuse, alcohol or substance abuse that mean the children can and should not spend time with one or other parent the court is likely to regard that as a barrier to significant periods of time being spent on an unsupervised basis (without anyone else there). Instead, what is likely to happen is the court will assess the risk to the child by, for example, commissioning a report from CAFCASS (the courts’ social workers) or someone independent and suitably qualified to give a view on the relevant issue. This might be a psychologist or a psychiatrist with a specialism in the particular area. What may then happen is a decision on how to mitigate any risks is made and time with that parent is then introduced in a measured and very gradual way, possibly starting as supervised by a Social Worker or in a contact centre and then supported by a third party and finally unsupervised but for very short time periods.
If there are no safeguarding issues, then the court is going to look at some of the other welfare checklist factors which might apply including the ages of the children and how experienced the parents are and whether they are able to meet the child’s individual needs. With very young children the court is going to start with “baby steps” when considering how often they spend time with the other parent with whom they are not used to spending significant periods of time. This is likely to mean very short bursts of contact, again on a gradually increasing basis.
Once the children are of pre-school age or where the other parent is able to look after the child and both parents agree it’s in the interests of the child, the child in question may spend overnight with the parent with whom they do not live. Again, whether this is appropriate right from the outset does depend on the child’s individual circumstances, including their age and the relationship they already have with the parent. For example, where prior to separation both parents have shared the care of the children from when they were born and are used to spending time with them and looking after their individual needs, some time overnight might be appropriate from a very early age, subject to the issue of breast feeding which can create logistical and practical barriers to overnights or longer periods (for all sorts of very good reasons).
With school age children, there are various ways in which the children’s time can be divided between the two parents.
Where the children mainly live with one parent and spend time with the other parent, a common scenario would be where the children spend a midweek visit/overnight and alternate weekends with one parent, and the rest of the time over a two-week period with the other parent.
Generally, the patterns are fortnightly so the above pattern will be a 10/4 split - 4 nights out of every 14 assuming that the weekend contact is on a Friday and Saturday night. If it’s just Saturday every other weekend, then that is 3 nights out 14.
It’s possible to build on this basic model toward an equal division. A “week on week off” type of arrangement will involve an exact 50/50 division of time but this is more common for older children or where the parents live fairly close to one another to facilitate school runs. The advantage of week on week off is that it’s simple and easy for the children to understand (is it mum’s week or dad’s week?) and there are far fewer handovers, with the same handover day every week. The disadvantage is that the blocks can be too long for younger children to go without seeing the other parent.
One option is to swap one night in the middle of the week, as an “island” for the other parent:-
As an alternative to this, many parents operate what is called a 2:2:5:5 arrangement whereby each of them has 7 days across every fortnight made up of a block of 5 days and a block of 2 days. The pattern looks like this:
2:2:5:5 Pattern (50:50 care)
The advantage of 2:2:5:5 is that both parents get a long weekend with the children and the children are with them on the same day of each week and the time apart from them is not too long.
It’s possible to move away from 2:2:5:5 for example saying that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are with one parent and Thursday with the other, or by making the weekends shorter so that the children spend every Sunday night with one parent or the other or by saying, for example, that one parent has every other Wednesday and every Thursday with the children (perhaps on the weekend when they do not have the children) these look like this:
9/5 split with Thursday as the midweek stay
8/6 with a shorter weekend
8/6 with alternating Wednesday only and every Thursday