Ships that pass in the night - Working out child arrangements when you work shifts - Family Law Partners

Ships that pass in the night – Working out child arrangements when you work shifts

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It is often challenging for parents to work out how to share parenting responsibilities on separation.  If one or both parents work shifts this can present particular challenges.

Possible issues and questions

  • Your shifts overlap and you may struggle to agree on how to share the costs of childcare to cover this
  • You may need to sleep during the day making it difficult to care for pre-school children or do school pick-ups
  • If one parent is having to make short notice changes to fit in with changing shift patterns, this can cause tension
  • If you change jobs or shift patterns, flexibility is needed.

“Our shifts make it difficult to arrange time with our children in a consistent pattern – how can we find a way forward when it is hard to communicate?”

“I do not want to go to Court. Is there another way to sort out plans for our children?”

“My ex says that I am not around enough to be a joint or sole carer of our children.  I  do not want to spend less time with my children because I work shifts – what can I do?”

There are no easy answers or ready-made solutions to these questions or others relating to co-parenting when shift work is involved, even if you go to Court because every family and child is different.  The good news is that support and advice is available to improve communication and resolve parenting issues so that in most cases you do not need to apply to the Court.

  1. Legal principles:

The Children Act 1989 sets out key principles which guide mediators, family lawyers, arbitrators, judges and all professionals working with parents to make arrangements for their children:

(a) A child’s welfare is the ‘paramount consideration’

(b) The ‘welfare checklist’ is used to ensure that arrangements for children are in their best interests and meet their overall needs, having regard for their wishes and feelings (taking into account their age and understanding).  The Welfare Checklist –

  1. Some points to bear in mind

  • It can be hard work to focus on what is best for your children when you are dealing with your own feelings about separating. However, if you are both willing to do so, this will provide the most stable future for your children as they will not have to worry about who is collecting them from school, cooking their tea, helping with homework or taking them to a swimming class etc.   Children carry worries inside and can blame themselves for their parents’ separation – this can have a long-term impact on them
  • The more you can talk together about how to make settled arrangements, the better this will be for your children especially if you can both sit down with them to explain what the plans are. This link provides detailed information and support and a short video with some tips for putting your children first –
  • You may not have time or energy to devote to researching the options. The list below is an overview with links to detailed information and includes ways for you both to find support to improve communication to make arrangements run more smoothly.  It will give greater confidence to you and your children to know what is happening in advance.
  1. Support and advice options:

Mediation enables you to meet with a mediator who is trained to ensure you both have your say and who will treat you even-handedly.  A mediator must remain impartial, they can give legal information to help you both make informed decisions.  A mediator can help you make a parenting plan to set out your joint proposals for your children (Parenting Plan – Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).  You can discuss the impact of your shift patterns on your family life and talk about contingency planning if your shifts are likely to overlap or change at any time.

If you both consent, a child-inclusive mediator can speak to your children in an age-appropriate way (usually where they are over 10 years of age)  – to find out how they would like arrangements to work when you separate. Take a look at this blog for more information.

Family Consultants work independently or with mediators and family lawyers to support separating couples with improving communication with one another, to make decisions needed for their families.

The collaborative process takes place as a series of joint meetings where you each have your own lawyer who supports you whilst working as a team with you, the other parent and their lawyer to work out arrangements for your children and any financial matters

Solicitor-led negotiations – a lawyer can help you negotiate child arrangements.  Resolution lawyers work with clients to find non-adversarial solutions where possible.

Arbitration – if you are stuck in negotiations and do not want to go to court, an arbitrator can consider the views of each parent and make a legally binding decision (equivalent to a court order) about future arrangements for your children.  Arbitration is quicker than the Court process.  It is privately funded, but because it is quicker, you will not have the long-running costs you would have during the Court process where information needs updating regularly. Take a look at this blog for more information.

Court – Sometimes a court application is necessary for urgent situations or if the above options are impossible.  It is, hopefully, for most people a ‘last resort’ as it is a lengthy, stressful and costly process.  You will be asking a Judge to make a decision for your family rather than making joint decisions yourselves.  As children grow up, their needs change and it is difficult for a court to order arrangements that will be suitable for their entire childhood so it is likely that you will have to go back to court at some stage to vary the order if you cannot agree matters.  It is difficult for a court to order how much time children are to spend with each parent including when they work shifts as shift patterns change and you may not always work shifts.

On a practical basis, it can help to speak to your employer(s) to see if there is any flexibility whilst children are young.  If you have extended family members they may be able to help if your shifts overlap.  If you can work together as parents, even if this is difficult at points, you will be able to overcome hurdles jointly and you will have a better parenting relationship as your children grow up.  If you would like to talk to us about any of the above processes and how we can help in your particular situation, please let us know.

Other resources which may be helpful

Our Family Wizard Co-Parenting Apps | OurFamilyWizard

Parenting through separation | Resolution

Separated parents information programme Separated Parents Information Programme – Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service

Co-parenting – essential guidance for separating parents

What can you do if you reach a deadlock when negotiating with the partner you are separating from?

Dispute Resolution – what is it and what are my options?

Flexible working and work-life balance (

Making child arrangements – Citizens Advice

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