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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.
“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.
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 – childlawadvice.org.uk
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.
Our Family Wizard Co-Parenting Apps | OurFamilyWizard
Separated parents information programme Separated Parents Information Programme – Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service