When considering whether a ‘shared care’ (equal time) arrangement is the best fit for children, there are a number of practical and other factors that the Family Law Act and the family law Courts say should be considered.
Primarily, the Court is required to determine:
1. whether an equal time arrangement is in a child’s best interests and
2. whether, logistically, it is ‘reasonably practical’ for an equal time arrangement to be in place.
But what does that mean for separated parents who are trying to figure out what care arrangements would best work for their children?
When considering an ‘equal time’ arrangement, parents should consider:
1. How close do they live to the other parent?
Can the children’s travel between each home be ‘easily done’, so to speak.
2. BOTH parent’s current and future capacity to:
a. Make the arrangement work in a day to day practical sense. Simply put – make things as simple as possible for the children.
For example, the children having the benefit of complete sets of school uniforms at each household to minimise the personal possessions they have to carry between houses or attempting to use the same before and after school care provider.
b. Communicate and coordinate about the children’s day to day arrangements.
Parents must be able to inform the other parent about important aspects relevant to the children’s day to day care that will cross over or apply to the children’s time in the other household.
For example, homework that is due, school permission slip to be returned, times and locations of activities and invitations to birthday parties or events that are to be attended to when the children are in the other parent’s care. Children must not be burdened with the worry about reminding their parents of such arrangements.
c. Resolve future conflicts.
If parents are caught up in a pattern of ‘high conflict’ then an equal time arrangement may amplify that conflict, which may ultimately result in the children being exposed to or involved in the conflict or tension between their parents.
Parents should consider putting arrangements in place that ensure the children’s transition between each household under an equal time arrangement is ‘seamless’. It matters to children, and their wellbeing, that they can be secure in the knowledge that their parents are on top of their day to day care and arrangements, including seemingly simple things like getting to their soccer match on time, wearing the correct uniform at school on a given day, their attendance at a friend’s birthday party or their participation in dress up day for book week.
Generally, ‘shared care’ is not considered an arrangement that is appropriate for infants or young children, as it older children have a greater ability to adjust to and deal with shuttling between households.