Family Law... Shared Parenting Agreements

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016
Posted in: Shared Parenting Family Law by Christine Doucet, Partner

Christine Doucet – August 2016

Shared Parenting (Part 1 of a 3 Part Series)

Shared parenting is one of the most litigated topics in our family courts.  As family lawyers, we frequently represent parents who are either seeking or opposing shared parenting of their children.  However, there are also many parents who come to the decision together, following a separation, that shared parenting is the best option for their children.

This is the first of a three-part series of blogs on shared parenting.  This blog focuses on shared parenting agreements.  Part 2 and 3 will focus on litigated aspects of shared parenting.

What is shared parenting?

Shared parenting is the term for a parenting schedule in which a child or children spend between 40 and 60 per cent of their time with each parent.

Shared parenting schedules

­­Week On, Week Off

A common shared parenting schedule involves the children spending one week in one parent’s household, followed by a week in the other parent’s household.  This schedule, referred to as “week about” or “week on, week off”, can work well for some families as it allows the children time to become settled in each home, without frequent transitions.  The children’s personal items, such as backpacks and sports gear, only need to be transferred once per week.  This schedule may not be the best for young children.  Some studies show that babies and toddlers respond better to parenting schedules in which they have frequent periods of time with the people to whom they have become attached.

In some cases, parents decide on a schedule involving periods of two to five days with each parent.  Here are two common examples, which are each based on two week rotations:

2-2-3 Schedule

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Week One Parent 1 Parent 2 Parent 2 Parent 1 Parent 1 Parent 2 Parent 2
Week Two Parent 2 Parent 1 Parent 1 Parent 2 Parent 2 Parent 1 Parent 1

 

The 2-2-3 schedule, exactly as it sounds, provides that the children will spend two weekdays with each parent, followed by a three-day weekend with one parent.  The benefits are frequent time with each parent, which may allow the parents to be equally involved in the children’s school week and extra-curricular activities.  The downside (for some families) are the frequent transitions.

5-5-2-2 Schedule

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Week One Parent 1 Parent 1 Parent 1 Parent 2 Parent 2 Parent 2 Parent 2
Week Two Parent 2 Parent 1 Parent 1 Parent 2 Parent 2 Parent 1 Parent 1

Similarly, the 5-5-2-2 schedule allows the children to spend two weekdays with each parent, followed by a three-day weekend with one parent.  It differs from the 2-2-3 schedule, however, because the parent’s weekdays with the children are adjacent to his or her long weekend with the children.  This provides each parent with a stretch of five days with the children.  It also allows the children to spend consistent weekdays with a parent each week, for example every Monday and Tuesday with Dad and every Wednesday and Thursday with Mom.  This is helpful if one parent has regular evening obligations, such as an evening shift at work or night class.  It also allows a parent to plan a weekly event with a child, such as a Tae Kwon Do class.  It may also be helpful in arranging childcare and/or school busing, since the schedule is consistent from week to week.

Creative Schedules

Shared parenting is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Some parents choose to remain flexible in their schedule, and adapt to meet their children’s schedules or their own employment schedules.  Some parents who work non-traditional shifts (such as four days on, four days off) will create a parenting schedule to mirror that employment schedule.  This ensures that the children are with them at times that they are most available for the children.  Parents of teenagers heavily involved in sports sometimes will often create a flexible schedule to ensure that the children are with the parent best able to take them to their sports obligations during a particular season.  This sometimes involves one child being in the care of one parent for the weekend, perhaps at an out-of-town tournament, and the other child(ren) being in the care of the other parent.  The school year may be more flexible, while the summer may have a more traditional schedule (such as week on, week off).

Finances of Shared Parenting

As with schedules, there is no universal solution to the financial aspects of shared parenting.  Many parents assume, incorrectly, that a quick calculation will resolve child support.  In fact, the calculation of the “set-off” amount of child support, is just the starting point.  The set-off calculation is the difference between the amount of child support that each parent would be required to pay to the other in a primary care situation.  According to section 9 of the Child Support Guidelines, parents who share the parenting of their children also need to consider:

  1. The increased costs of shared parenting, and
  2. The conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse and of any child for whom support is sought.

The goal is to ensure that the standards of living in each household are roughly equivalent.  Therefore, parents with shared parenting may decide it is appropriate for a parent to pay more or less than the set-off amount, or for no child support to change hands.  In making this decision, they should take into account factors such as:

Parents who are able to discuss and agree upon the scheduling and financial aspects of shared parenting will find that this is just the beginning.  Nova Scotia courts have noted that shared parenting arrangements involve constant co-operation and communication between parents.  Parents, where possible, will often work together to ensure consistency in the households regarding homework, discipline, bedtimes, and communication with the other parent.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of this series, which will focus on the litigated aspects of shared parenting.

(View Part 2)

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