There is no one size fits all when it comes to devising the right child custody arrangement for your children. The process can be time consuming, stressful and emotionally draining for you and your children. Read on to learn about some of the most common child custody arrangements that parents put in place for their children and the pros and cons of each.
What is the process if parents cannot agree on child custody arrangements?
If you are unable to agree upon the living arrangements of your children post separation, mediation is the first step. If an agreement cannot be reached at mediation, you are able to make an application to the court for parenting orders. To learn more about the process, please contact an experienced child custody lawyer from Barton Family Lawyers for detailed family court advice.
What are the most common child custody arrangements?
We often here terms like ‘sole custody’ and ‘joint custody’ when referring to child custody arrangements.
- “Sole custody” – where one parent has care/custody of their child and the power to make all decisions regarding their child’s long term welfare;
- “joint custody’ / “shared custody” – where both parents have care/custody of their child and share the making of decisions regarding their child’s long term welfare.
In the Australian legal system, the word “custody” is not recognised.
Instead, the Family Law Act 1975 uses terms like “sole parental responsibility” or “equal shared parental responsibility” which references a person who has responsibility to make decisions in relation to a child’s long term health and welfare, as well as the terms “lives with” and “spends time with” when referencing the time that a child spends with each parent.
Where parents agree to share custody of their child, they agree that their child will spend time at each parents house and that both parents will contribute to the making of decisions regarding their child.
Here are a few of the most common child custody arrangements for parents:
A two-two-three custody arrangement works with the following overnight rotation, as follows:
Monday & Tuesday – Mum
Wednesday & Thursday – Dad
Friday, Saturday & Sunday – Mum
Monday & Tuesday – Dad
Wednesday & Thursday – Mum
Friday, Saturday & Sunday – Dad
This schedule works well for parents with younger children to enable the children to spend regular time with each parent without being apart from either parent for too long.
Whether this option will work well depends on the age of the children, how closely the parents live, how well the parents get on with one another, how closely aligned the parents routines in each household are and whether the children are able to move with ease from house to house, with minimal stress.
If the children are older, if you and the other parent are in conflict with each other and/or if the children are experiencing stress whilst moving from house to house, this option may not be right for you and your children.
A two-two-five custody arrangement looks like this:
Monday & Tuesday – Mum
Wednesday & Thursday – Dad
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – Mum
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday – Dad
This type of custody arrangement works better for older children who have extra-curricular activities and where it is preferred that the children remain with the same parent on the same weekday.
One week on, one week off
This is the simplest and most common option for parents who have shared care of their children. This child custody arrangement works well for older children who are happy to spend lengthier periods of time with either parent.
This arrangement is not ideal for younger children who are less able to cope with long periods away from either parent.
For this arrangement to work, the parents need to live close to one another, there should be a good co-parenting relationship and the routines of the children in each household should be closely aligned to ensure the transition of the children from house to house is smooth and not a stressful experience for them.
Alternating weeks with a visit in between
Some parents may dislike having the week about schedule because of the length of time in between the children visiting the other parent and for this reason, opt for each parent to have a visit with the children in their off week.
This can be helpful while the children are younger and are less capable of spending long periods away from either parent.
This is a common child custody arrangement where the non-resident parent works long hours during the week.
The children will then spend time with that parent from Friday afternoon to Sunday night or Monday morning every second weekend.
This custody arrangement is becoming less and less common as more parents are starting to work from home and work arrangements for parents are becoming less fixed and more flexible following the pandemic.
Four/five/six day fortnight
This is a step up from the alternate weekends arrangement which enables the children to have a more healthy relationship with each parent as it enables both parents to be involved moreso in the children’s daily routine.
We recommend this arrangement to most parents who are not keen on the week about arrangement but they do not feel that having every second weekend enables them to have a meaningful enough relationship with their children.
Some variations of this arrangement provide for the children to spend time with the non-resident parent as follows:
- Thursday to Monday every second week and the possibility of a mid-week overnight in the off week;
- Wednesday to Monday every second week;
- Wednesday to the following Tuesday.
Parents moving in and out of the children’s house
Following separation, it can be hard for the children to adjust to living in two separate houses, one of which is unfamiliar to them.
To allow for a smoother transition and less stress for the children, some parents are open to the idea of the kids staying in the house they lived in during the relationship and the parents moving in and out of that house from week to week.
The parents may rent a home elsewhere or stay with a family member when it is the other parents turn to spend time with the children.
Whilst this arrangement is a great option for the children short term to provide them with stability and to enable them to maintain their routine, it is generally only a short term solution until the parents make arrangements for where they will be living post separation in the long term.
Common Child Custody Arrangements Court Ordered by age
Every family is different and has different needs. What works best for one family might not work well for another.
Children’s needs change as they grow older. Child Custody arrangements are often progressed by age to take into account the changing needs of the children.
When children are younger, psychologists generally recommend that a child remain living with the primary attachment the majority of the time and spend short frequent bursts of time with the non-resident parent.
When children grow older (usually by age 2 or 3), they can start spending overnights with the parent they are not living with.
When children are of school age, generally speaking, children have the capacity to handle longer stints of time away from the parent they are primarily attached with. It is at this stage, that the Court’s are more open to considering orders for shared care, pending of course those orders being in the particular child’s best interests.
Whilst there are no specific rules as to how a Judge determines what child custody arrangements are in a child’s best interests at a particular age, the below is a rough guide as to what the Court’s are more likely to order, for time between the child and the non-primary carer, based on what psychologists recommend for children of different ages:
0 – 1 year old: 2 – 3 times/week for 1 – 3 hours
1 – 2 years old: 2 – 8 hours (full day)
2 – 3 years old: 1 overnight/week
3 – 4 years old: Up to 3 nights/week consecutively
5 years and older: 4 – 7 consecutive nights
So as a general guideline, the best custody arrangements that are ideal for a young child involve the child living with one parent and spending frequent bursts of time with the other parent, eventually building up to one night per week, when the child reaches two years of age. Thereafter, the number of consecutive nights the child spends with the other parent will depend on the individual needs of the child. Often courts are conservative with ordering more than one consecutive night between a child and the non-resident parent until the child reaches school age.
The above are not rules that are required to be followed by parents or the Court when making parenting orders, but they are a guideline that the Court’s more often then not will follow if they are asked to make parental responsibility orders in relation to a child.
The guidelines will not suit every child and at the end of the day, it is the individual child’s needs that are relevant as well as any other relevant facts or circumstances when deciding what child custody arrangement is in a child’s best interests.
For more information about ideal custody arrangements for parents and children under 4, click the link to the following article: Parenting Arrangements for 0 – 4 year olds.
Need assistance with negotiating common child custody arrangements?
Please call us on 3465 9322 or contact us online to book a reduced rate initial consultation with one of our experienced Brisbane Family Lawyers to obtain advice in relation to which common child study arrangement is best for you and your children and the process to achieve you desired outcome.