I have been asked this or a similar question many times by clients over the years since I qualified as a solicitor and specialised in family law.  It has always been an issue for those people who work irregular hours or in a shift pattern, such as police, fire fighters or nurses.  With a 24 hour society, irregular hours and shift work are on the increase.  So what can you do and what is the court’s view when one or both parents work shifts or irregular hours?

The ideal situation is of course to be able to communicate with the other parent and to be flexible to allow for changing work schedules. It is important to be able to negotiate arrangements frequently and as often as is necessary depending on the availability of advance work schedules.  I often remind the parent with care that the other parent is rarely deliberately choosing to work the pattern they are assigned.  Focusing on the benefit for your child in being flexible is rewarding – by rigorously following a set pattern which doesn’t really work causes one or both you to feel aggrieved and inevitably miss out on important events for your child.

For those who perhaps work away a lot, perhaps on business or because of the nature of their job (e.g. airline pilot), utilising virtual means of contact such as Skype or FaceTime can help a child stay in contact with both parents and maintain that essential relationship with them both.

If you find it too difficult to make arrangements direct, mediation is an excellent way of discussing options and coming up with an agreement which works for everyone.  Mediation can even involve the children, depending on their age and understanding, allowing them to have some input in the arrangements.

But what if communication has broken down altogether? When considering what orders to make, the child’s welfare must be the court’s paramount consideration. Since the child’s welfare is normally served by having a meaningful relationship with both parents, in my experience, the courts will rarely force a rigid pattern of contact arrangements upon a family where one parent has irregular working hours.   This must be balanced with the other parent having at least some notice of arrangements but rosters and shift patterns are usually known in advance. The court can order that in principle a child should see his or her parent for a minimum level of time/nights per month, with the exact days to be arranged once the work pattern is known.  Holidays too can be organised in advance.

What is certain is that the courts are becoming more and more innovative in how to deal with these situations, recognising that a “one size fits all” approach is not appropriate and working hard to ensure that a child spends time with and maintains their relationship with both parents.

 

For more information on this issue or on mediation, please contact Sara Barnes by calling 01245 221699 or emailing sara@ejcoombs.co.uk