Often parents find it difficult to agree upon care arrangements for their children after going through a separation.

Some parents focus on having 50/50 shared care which they see as being ‘fair’ or their ‘entitlement’, without considering fully practical considerations which may make equal shared care impractical or not in the child’s best interests (for instance if one parent works long hours, lives in a different city, or does shift work).

Often care arrangements will need to change over time, depending on the age of the children, after-school activities that they may be involved in, or because of the needs of one or both of the parents (for example if a parent’s work hours change).

Below are some examples of care arrangements which parents can put in place following a separation, along with some considerations to bear in mind when deciding what arrangement will work best in their circumstances.

Week about (equal shared care)

This care arrangement often works best with children who are older (so time away from the other parent is less of an issue for them), or where parents live further apart (making multiple changeovers less practical).

This care arrangement can work effectively with changeover occurring at school, thereby minimising contact between parents (which may be important in high conflict situations). One downside to this care arrangement may be if a child is having to lug ‘overnight bags’ with them to school/after-school activities in preparation for the following week.

Week about care may also inflame situations where parents cannot agree on what extra-curricular activities the children should be attending (for example, parents may refuse to take children to their swimming lessons which the other parent has enrolled them in during their week of care).

Often parents build up to this type of arrangement over time.

2-2-5-5 (equal shared care)

Each parent has the child for 2 days in a row, and then 5 days in a row. This care arrangement can work well for younger children as they are not spending large amounts of time away from each parent, or where parents are unable to agree on what after-school activities their children should be taking (as it means that each week they will have the child on the same day so they can ensure they are attending their activities).

This care arrangement can also be easier for children to remember whose care they are in on what day (for example ‘Mum always takes me to soccer on Wednesdays’ and ‘Dad always picks me up from Judo on Thursdays’)

2-2-5-5 can also be a good trial/stepping stone in the lead up to week about care. However, a downside with this care arrangement is that there are more changeovers which can be a flash-point for conflict in front of children.

2 days about (equal shared care)

This care arrangement can work well for younger children or parents who struggle with long periods of time apart from one or both parents. The downside with this care arrangement is that it is not as predictable for the children, as they are not spending consistent days each week with each parent. This can be unsettling for children. It can also make it more complicated for children and parents to arrange their schedules.  

Day about (equal shared care)

This unusual arrangement usually suits younger children better, and relies on parents having good communication, and the ability to manage changeovers without conflict. It can, however, be unsettling for children as they do not spend two nights in a row in the same home.

Week with one parent, weekends with the other (unequal shared care)

This type of care arrangement may be helpful for shift workers, or parents with inflexible working arrangements.

A downside of this care arrangement is that one parent does not have any weekend contact with the children. This means that one parent misses out on being able to spend longer quality time with the children while they are not at school.  

Having a weekend with the same parent can be helpful in the short term when that parent is building up trust with the other with the view to moving towards a shared care arrangement.

Fortnightly weekend contact visits

Fortnightly weekend contact visits may be appropriate where parents live in different cities, or one parent is unavailable during the week (due to work commitments etc) to have contact with the child.

For very young children, seeing a parent only every second weekend can feel like a long time, and in this case may not be ideal. 

Fortnightly weekend contact visits with extra evening visits

This care arrangement is usually preferable to the contact arrangement outlined above, as it reduces the period of time between contact visits.

It also gives the chance for the parent having contact with the child to have weekday contact with them so that they can assist with extra-circular activities, homework, and other evening routines. This also allows the day-to-day carer of the child to have a night off.

Contact visits every second day

Regular short periods of contact either every day or every second day is often suitable when a child is very young and it may be difficult for them to spend long periods of time away from their primary attachment (for instance when a child is still being breastfed).

This arrangement requires a lot of cooperation between parents and it usually helps if the parents live relatively close to each other.

These are just a few of the many different ways child care can be arranged. It is important to remember that care arrangements that work for one family may not be appropriate for another, and that equal shared care can take many forms. It is also important to bear in mind that, from a child’s perspective, the quality of time spent with each parent is far more important than the quantity.

For more information on parenting through separation please contact Shaun Cousins on (04) 473 6850 or email him at scousins@raineycollins.co.nz